Wednesday, September 27, 2006

It's What's Not There That Matters

After reading the rosy pictures painted by Luke Rosenburger, and Steven Cohen, I'm concerned that we're not approaching RSS in as critical a fashion as we should be. Even Robin Good's article, while more balanced, wasn't particularly critical. RSS is a new medium in the same way that the telephone, television, and telegraph were once new. Each radically changed the way we interact with each other, the way we think and even the way organize ourselves. I think that a recognition of this has begun to ingrain itself in our culture, for which we are in great debt to Marshal McLuhan, and for that reason we approach most new mediums critically. Blog are a great example of this, as much time and print is spent analyzing the medium of blogging as is spent addressing any particular aspect of its content. The same, I don't think, can be said of RSS. Perhaps because of its ultimate simplicity, many fail to recognize RSS as something new, or at least as a medium all its own.

I haven't given this as much thought as I would have liked to, but I do have some initial thoughts on RSS the medium. RSS is minimalist in the information it distributes; headlines, summaries, mere suggestions of the whole story. The intent, obviously, is to draw people to the full text, the totality of what is available, but is that what really happens? What I fear is equally likely is that rather then drill down into the story, article, post, or update, RSS readers will increasingly rely on the feed itself as their source of information. In the past a person might not have experienced information of such diversity, at such speed, but because they were required to actually seek it out they experienced it in its entirety. If I'm right, this only becomes more of a problem as the popularity of RSS grows. The more feeds to which a person subscribes, the less time they will ultimately have to dedicate to each of the items in the feeds. In the end we will have traded immediacy for completeness. My really concern is that this RSS overload will further the Fox News, talk radio effect, ignorance of ignorance. People reading hundreds of RSS feeds a day will feel as though they are in the know, when in fact they've garnered very little from their efforts.

Anyway, because of the above RSS worries me and I think it should be approach with care . Libraries want potential patrons to visit their site and I'm not sure RSS is the way to do it. The key, I believe, may be in treating the RSS feed not as a headline, but simply as advertising; summaries out, catch phrases in. The headline works for the newspaper because the article is underneath, the same cannot be siad of RSS. Finally, if it's something that can't or shouldn't be advertised then leave it out, let them come to the site.

1 comment:

kueneman said...

I agree, from personal experience, that although we can obtain lots of snippets of information via RSS feeders, we certainly may only read the headlines and miss the most important part of the article. Perhaps RSS technology should be viewed with caution and maybe there's validity to viewing RSS feeds as advertisements by libraries - write a really intriguing (and informative) headline and maybe they will then come to your website and read the rest. Somehow we have to get the patrons to the library website to get the information. Only those who have an interest and subscribe to the feeds initially will be reading the RSS feeds in the first place.