Getting RSS Organized

D.C. non-profit technologist and awesome blogger Michael Stein wrote a very good post this week titled Bread and Butter 2.0. In it he said that most non-profit groups need more access to money and straightforward uses of their computers, not a bunch of “technology for it’s own sake.” Stein said he could see the use of AJAX right away, to increase the usability of web services non-profits are using, but asks what other Web2.0 tools really hit the bread and butter issues.

I would contend that RSS does that. Finding the right feeds to subscribe to and organizing them well is key.

If you don’t have an RSS reader yourself, you can see a demonstration account filled with feeds by going to Newsgator and logging in as user: marshalldemo password: welcome. I told Norris McDonald, the director of the African American Environmentalist Association (for whom I do blog technical support) about that demonstration RSS reader and he emailed me back saying, “Oh. I see. Very useful…Yes I can see the benefits of RSS now. I will join and use. Thanks. See why I like that you are out there.” (Thanks Norris!)

Here’s how I’m organizing my feed reader at Newsgator right now. I have wanted to write about this for awhile, but inspired by Michael Stein’s post I hope that this will be a clear demonstration of how RSS hits the bread and butter issues.

My feeds go into folders titled:

1. Reputation Tracking – who’s linking to me? search to RSS from Technorati, Pubsub, Feedster and Google Blogsearch

2. Product Vendors – if a product vendor who’s service I use posts to their blog about a planned service interruption or a new feature, then I’ll know right away. When services are back up, I’ll know that too and I won’t have to keep checking for updates.

3. Clients (or call this stakeholders) – this folder captures new blog posts from my clients, instances of someone else linking to them, emails sent to project email accounts that I don’t check regularly myself, items clients have tagged as of interest to me (or tagged at all for the infrequent taggers), notifications that any of the wikis I use to communicate with clients have been changed, and mp3 files of my brother’s radio show (just for fun)

4. Community of Practice – RSS feeds for blogs like yours, the NPTech Meta Feed, etc.

5. Thought Leaders – Feeds for A-list and other big bloggers, or innovators on whatever scale.

6. Key Industry News

7. Searches, Frequent – Feeds for searches that always get lots of new results (like for “podcasters”) and that just make interesting info channels.

8. Searches, Rare – Feeds for searches that are a big deal if and when they come up with anything, like podcast search for “Blogher conference” When rare search feeds come up with results, I want to know and not to have it get lost in a larger folder.

9. Conversations – RSS feeds for comments on sites I’ve commented on, when available (like with WordPress blogs)

10. Podcasts – This is where I put my podcast feeds, I open it when I want a podcast and I see what’s newly arrived.

11. Other – this is where I put almost everything else.

Anything brand new I will plop into my reader outside all those folders, so I can watch it very closely for awhile and decide where I want to put it. All put together, this makes my RSS reader like a control panel to monitor all the actual or potential content streams of interest to me, with them organized in a way that prioritizes them according to the varying importance of seeing each item that comes through various feeds. I’m currently subscribed to 238 feeds, so without this or some other system I would go insane. There is no way I can read everything that comes down the pipe, but that’s ok. So long as I see the really important things then everything else is like my personalized cable t.v. to surf.

Finally, non-profit groups would also benefit greatly by making their own news updates and events calenders available for supporters to subscribe to via RSS. Many people would be interested enough to put an RSS feed into their feed reader to sit invisible until new items come through, but not interested enough to return to your site regularly to see if there is anything new there.

Advantages to RSS over email include:

  • Findability and tracking: Emails get lost in inboxes and junk mail folders. RSS feeds, if well organized, are way less likely to be lost. Additionally you can see how many people have actually read your items delivered via RSS through tools like Feedburner’s item click-through.
  • Security: Once your emails are sent, they are sent. There’s no bringing them back. If you decide you want to change a message delivered by RSS you can just change the text in your feed and readers will receive only the updated version when they access your feed in their feed reader.

Yes RSS is wonderful. And I think it addresses bread and butter issues. If you’ve read this far, watch for an event over at in a couple of weeks that Michael Stein and I will be participating in together, little info available yet.

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