I sometimes tell people that when technology evangelists espouse that their tool saves you time, that it’s a red flag warning / code talk for “I am lying”.

These days many people rely on social media and their own professional learning networks to provide them information of interest. And these do work well to some degree and are important to use for your information flow. But it’s not very efficient.

People will claim they can replace RSS Readers with social media streams like twitter. While we do get many key resources and news stories via social media, let’s dispute that claim:

  • Clutter, noise, distraction. What you get is interspersed with many things that are outside your interests, rants, yelling, silly gifs. That’s a lot of filtering.
  • You Miss It, You Lose it. Social media is focused at the head of the stream. While you sleep or actually do something productive away from social media, it all flows away. Yes, maybe your network can signal with repeating important things, but its spotty.
  • Duplication You have no means to quickly know what you have already looked at, and you see may the same story multiple times.
  • You Are Subject to Algorithms Especially on facebook, what you see is determined by the mysteries of an algorithm. Sure you choose sources by followers, but the means by which information is presented is determined by some outside automated entity.

This activity brings you an exception to the technology as time-saving lie; it’s old tool that many people have abandoned. I will wade carefully through the acronym jargon jungle, but we are talking about using an RSS Feed Reader to monitor the most recent news, blog posts, data from sources you choose to follow, not ones dished out by some company’s algorithm.

This approach comes into good use in connected learning approaches such as a course you teach where students are blogging– how will you keep track and read new posts from 20, 30, or more blogs? This need is similar to following the activity in the Ontario Extend community. We aggregate the newest posts to the front page of the Domains of Our Own site and also are able to provide listing of new posts by within cohorts (e.g. posts from the East, West, North cohorts). But this requires you to remember to go to the site, scan what’s new, remember what you have already seen, then jump to other sites where you might never return… it’s not very efficient.

An RSS Reader allows you do more effectively scan the newest items, in one place, from many different web sites, in an interface is similar to something we know well– our email inbox. We can easily glance at that screen and see new messages.

This Extend activity will help you get started using an RSS Reader to set up your own efficient means to follow Ontario Extend blogs. A follow-up activity will expand this into creating and sharing your own collections of feeds from sources you curate.

Are you ready to read scan many web sites more efficiently?

How it Works in Feedly

There are a number of RSS Feed Reader tools to choose from, and I am not going to advocate any as “best” — they all more or less perform the same function. What’s more important is knowing (a) how to build your sources; (b) how to logically organize them; and (c) optionally how to curate items out of the big pile. Nearly everyone allows you to export a subscription file of all your sources, so moving to a new platform is rarely something where you lose data.

In this activity we will explain the steps using Feedly, a free service you can quickly create an account with using your Google credentials. To show you the benefit, I use my Feedly to subscribe to updates from all 56 blogs that we currently syndicate to the Domains of Our Own hub. Below we will show you how to do this in one efficient move, but this is the benefit of this approach:

A Feed reader view of all Ontario Extend Western Cohort blogs

 

On the left are the listings of the 56 blogs, but by viewing them at the “Collection” view (like a folder), on the right I can see the latest posts from all blogs. At a glance I can see ones I have not read as the titles are bold.

Do you not see how this saves time? I open feedly and right away I can get a pulse on the blog activity in the community. I can click headlines to open each one in the list, or better, I can use keyboard shortcuts like j for next item and k for previous to quickly read the blog posts, and see all media– without even leaving this view or jumping to another web site.

Reading one full blog post within the feed reader

I got a range of sharing options in the top of post viewing bar, but this way to page through many posts… saves time. Now if I want to leave a comment, or maybe see how it looks on their blog, so I can just click the title of the post in expanded view to visit original full blog post from the site where it was published.

That’s the view of the whole community, if I click one participant’s blog title on the left, I can again, quickly see the activity for that one person, and ones I have not read again are bold.

Reviewing the posts i just one blog within a feed reader

Think of how this might work if you want to be able to quickly scan and see the activity of  a class that is blogging.  Can you really do this better in twitter? Good luck.

I will also hint at another level of time saving amazement that will be saved for a future activity; for all my student blogs (ones using WordPress or Blogger) I have a matching set of feeds for the the comments on their blog. In the same ways, I can see and review the comment activity on all my student blogs or down to one single blog.

Getting Started with Feedly

Now to try Feedly, just go create an account there (I use my gmail account to create an account, that’s easy). My first view is going to be empty and they will ask you to add sources.

Starting Feedly– no sources (yet)

 

Now take a breath, here comes a few more acronyms. There is an additional data file format called OPML (not even worth saying what it stands for, it’s in XML format- oh no that is my third acronym, I am done). It’s more or less a package of subscriptions to feeds you can add at once, and will automatically create the grouping like you see in the screen shot examples above

The Ontario Extend Domains of our Own site offers these files made for you!  They are available from all the pages that list the syndicated blogs; so if you want the full set of all blogs, go to the Meet The Extenders listing, and look for the link to Extender Blogs OPML file.

Look for the OPML button!

 

You just need to download that file, you do not need to even look at it (but if you are curious, open it in a plan text editor).

If you prefer to read just the blogs from one cohort, you can download equivalent files from the West Cohort blogs listing, East Cohort blog listing, or North Cohort blog listing. Just make sure you have saved one file named something line domains-of-our-own-east.opml.

Now back in your empty Feedly account, click the Import Sources button at the bottom (or Import OMPL in top right), select the file, and SHAZAM, you should get this “valuable” collection.

Feedly view of all 56 Ontario Extend blogs

 

On the left, where all the sources are listed, it tells us how many I have yet to read. Is that valuable?

Now an important thing I forgot to mention AND IT ALSO SAVES TIME is, once subscribed, Feedly will automatically update your stuff while you are away.

As an aside, my preference for viewing is by the Title Only View, which you can select from the “Hamburger” menu:

Setting Feedly for title view, to me this is most efficient.

You can set this as a preference, and there are few more ones I’m skipping if you click your icon in the top right and select Preferences from the menu.

But right away, you should see a lot of new blog posts to scan. See how it feels to read posts from many web sites in one interface. Return a few days later, and see how it updates.

For this activity, try using Feedly as a prime way of staying up to date with the Ontario Extend community. Keep track of things you found here that you might not have found relying on twitter or other means. Write a blog post that tests my assertion that this is a more efficient way to ready many web sites (or feel free to disagree). Can you think of other ways you might want to curate your own collection of sources, maybe in your subject area, and how this tool might help you stay informed.

In followup activities you can learn to build your own collections of feeds, curate them into collections, and create your own OPML files.

Example for "This Indispensable Digital Research Tool, We can Say, Without Lying, Saves Time":
http://cogdogblog.com/2017/09/indispensable-tool/

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1 Response Completed for this Activity

  • RSS is Life (Chris Aldrich, @chrisaldrich)

    RSS is incredibly valuable as is OPML. I had used Feedly for several years, but made the switch to Inoreader last year, in part because it has one additional useful feature that Feedly doesn’t: OPML subscription. While it’s nice to be able to import and export OPML files, needing to remember to update them can be… Read more »

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