26 August 2012

RSS Compilers

Originally published in the ALLUNY Newsletter 34.2, July 2009

First, I want to thank all of you who have joined my exploration of usage statistics throughout the past year.  My wife, who helped revise the curriculum for a graduate-level stats class this year, was highly amused by my default status as "expert", because the only statistics I really understand are on the backs of baseball cards.

So this year, I want to write about something I know a bit better.  I'll start by sharing a tool I've been using to compile and distribute web-based content for my attorneys.

By now, I'm sure we are all familiar, not only with the value of internet resources (including blogs), but also with Real Simple Syndication.  RSS feeds allow us to visit a website once, click a button, and have new material delivered directly to us.  Given how many different sites publish relevant material, RSS has become essential for staying on top of almost any field.

We all know this by now.  But once we establish an RSS feed, how can we further disseminate this material to a broader group, which looks to its librarian as an information provider and filter?  New tools, designed to turn our lists of RSS feeds into print-ready newsletters, offer an easy solution.

Feedjournal is "the newspaper you always wanted."  Users create a free account, which requires only a valid email address, then add URLs for the feeds to be compiled.  This product offers a fair degree of content control: users can choose a period from one day to one month, and Feedjournal will pull posts from a feed into the interface.  From here, users will be able to select posts for inclusion, decide whether or not to include pictures, and then generate a PDF which can be printed or saved and emailed.

Caveats about the Feedjournal service: it will pull at most eight posts for a period--so an active feed may not be completely captured--and it will not retrieve the entire post if its original publication does not display the whole text.  Finally, it only allows one newsletter or set of feeds per email address.

The latter point is problematic, because I follow collections of feeds for a number of different practice areas.  Fortunately, Tabbloid offers essentially the same service.  Like Feedjournal, setup is simple and free (and limited to a single newsletter per email address).  Tabbloid does have two advantages over Feedjournal: instead of requiring a user to visit the site and  manually create each issue, once feeds and preferences are set, Tabbloid compiles them automatically and emails a print-ready PDF to the specified address.  And Tabbloid will pull every post to a feed, unlike the eight-per-feed limit on Feedjournal.

I use both of these services, as a means of tracking news for different practice groups at my firm.  This allows me to point out current developments and take advantage of the wide-spread discussions available online to keep my attorneys up-to-date, providing them the benefits of constantly monitoring a large number of resources in a once-weekly, easily scanned format.  They get more, more current information, and spend less time looking for, more time looking at, what is important.  Reaction has been uniformly positive, and it is an easy way to demonstrate value coming from the library.

I would encourage everyone to check out these tools, even if only to create a daily compilation of articles on the local baseball club.  If you want to see an example of the newsletter results before signing up for one of these, or if you have other new tools you'd like to see discussed, please feel free to contact me in the comments.

Unfortunately, neither of the products discussed is still free.

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