UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Rediscovering Auto-Discoverable RSS Feeds

Posted by Brian Kelly on 24 Aug 2011

Supporting the Scientific Communications Sector

I came across a good example of rapid innovation on Twitter last night.  A few days ago Jo Brodie (@JoBrodie) a science information officer and Diabetes UK & Public Engagement Co-ordinator,  tweeted that she was:

Seriously drooling at LSHTM’s website. They have RSS feeds for each category of job vacancy. I love them.

As I’ve an interest in ways in which RSS feeds can be used beyond simply news updates I asked:

@JoBrodie You seen @psychemedia posts & tools about autodiscoverable RSS feeds for UK Unis: Note we need autodiscovery

It turns out that Jo was unaware of the benefits of auto-discoverable RSS feeds.  However Tony Hirst responded by pointing out that he had similar interests in aggregating structured information provided as RSS feeds in similar areas:

@briankelly @JoBrodie just been trying to tweak a pipe to search for eg jobs, recruitment, vacancies etc but pipes not cloning properly

Tony went on to add that:

@JoBrodie autodiscovery is not magic – it’s based on the publisher of a page publishing a link to a feed:

but expressed his frustrations at the lack of support for auto-discoverable feeds:

failing to understand why the majority of medical/science charity/org websites fail to syndicate jobs and news feeds via rss…

which led to the following discussion:

Jo Brodie: @psychemedia YES! High fives etc. However many are small charities who have a job opening as a rare event with a press release ;)

Tony Hirst: @JoBrodie rss can make their data flow though – and the point about job ads is that orgs want them to be seen?

Tony Hirst: @JoBrodie all the more reason to syndicate the ads – who’s going to look at a page regularly that only updates once a year?

Tony Hirst: @JoBrodie in contrast, it costs nothing to retain a feed subscription

Despite such difficulties earlier this morning Tony has announced how he had taken a set of links listed in a post on Where London science communicators might work and used this to provide a Scraped and autodetected feeds resource of organisations working in the UK scientific communications community.

How is UK HE Doing?

I’ve described how a developer can make use of a feed of structured information across a community which can be used to provide benefits across the sector.  As Tony put it, people looking for jobs aren’t going to continually revisit a job’s page which is updated infrequently, but aggregating job information across a sector can provide a continually updated resource which should be worth revisiting.

Jo had commented that “many [of the Web sites] are small charities who have a job opening as a rare event with a press release ;)“.  The situation is clearly different for UK University Web sites who will have well-established Web teams and good levels of technical expertise. But are UK Universities making use of auto-discoverable RSS feeds?  In a recent post on Autodiscoverable Feeds and UK HEIs (Again…) Tony pointed out a wide range of possible uses for autodiscoverable RSS feeds:

As ever, most universities don’t seem to be supporting autodiscoverable feeds (neither are many councils…), so here are a few thoughts about what feeds you might link to, and why…

– news feeds: the canonical example. News feeds can be used to pipe news around various university websites, and also syndicate content to any local press or hyperlocal news sites. If every UK HEI published a news feed that was autodiscoverable as such, it would be trivial to set up a UK universities aggregated newswire.

– research announcements: I was told that one reason for putting out press releases was simply to build up an institutional memory/archive of notable events. Many universities run research newsletters that remark on awarded grants. How about a “funded research” feed from each university detailing grant awards and other research funding. Again, at a national level, this could be aggregated to provide a research funding newswire, as well as contribtuing data to local archives of research funding success.

– jobs: if every UK HEI published a jobs/vacancies RSS feed, it would trivial to build an aggregator and let people roll their own versions of

– events: universities contribute a lot to local culture through public talks and exhibitions. Make it easy for the local press and hyperlocal news sites to syndicate this info, and add events to their own aggregated “what’s on” calendars. (And as well as RSS, give ‘em an iCal feed for your events.)

– YouTube uploads: you might was well add an autodiscoverable feed to your university’s recent uploads on YouTube. If nothing else, it contributes an informal ownership link to the web for folk who care about things like that.

– your university Twitter feed: if you’ve got one. I noticed Glasgow Caledonian linked to their Twitter feed through an autodiscoverable link on their university homepage.

– tenders: there’s a whole load of work going on in gov at the moment regarding transparency as it relates to procurement and tendering. So why not get open with your procurement and tendering data, and increase the chances of SMEs finding out what you’re tendering around. If the applications have to go through a particular process, no problem: link to the appropriate landing page in each feed item.

– energy data: releasing this data may well become a requirement in the not so far off future, so why not get ahead of the game, e.g. as Lincoln are starting to do (Lincoln U energy data)? If everyone was publishing energy data feeds, I’m sure DevCSI hackday folk would quickly roll together something like the aggregating service built by college student @issyl0 out of a Rewired State hack that pulls together UK gov department energy data: GovSpark

– XCRI-CAP course marketing data feeds: JISC is giving away shed loads of cash to support this, so pull your finger out and get the thing published.

– location data: got a KML feed yet? If not, why not? e.g. Innovations in Campus Mapping

Tony’s assertion that “most universities don’t seem to be supporting autodiscoverable feeds” is supported by the evidence from his UK HE Feed Autodiscovery app which trawls through UK HEI home pages. This currently reports that only ~38% of UK University home pages have auto-discoverable RSS feeds.

Getting Feedback

Why are the majority of UK Universities failing to add a single element in the University home page for each RSS feed they would like to make auto-discoverable?  In order to find an answer to  this I have created a SurveyMonkey form in which I am inviting those who manage institutional Web sites to  help provide a better understanding of the reasons for the low usage. I hope this will help to identify barriers and  ways in which such barriers can be addressed in order that the vision  of discovery of a whole set of useful resources across the sector which Tony has described can be implemented.

To summarise this post in a more Twitter-friendly format:

Why don’t more Unis provide auto-discoverable RSS feeds? Give your reasons at


One Response to “Rediscovering Auto-Discoverable RSS Feeds”

  1. Tony Hirst said

    @brian I added a view over my Scraperwiki UK HE feed autodiscovery thing [ ] that tries to identify feeds by type (events, jobs, news etc):

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: