RSS as commodity

Now I want to share these RSS feeds. So I send you my feed on RSS resources […] You receive it, like it, but want to add some of your own links and re-annotate some of mine. By doing so you then make a new feed that can be shared back with me or with a 3rd party and so on. The RSS feed becomes a commodity.

As I wrote in 2003 now looks possible with Yahoo Pipes. In case you haven’t seen the service, Yahoo Pipes allows you to aggregate, filter, combine, and republish RSS feeds. You subscribe to a number of feeds and filter them all for your favourite subject then republish a new feed containing just those items. It’s a copyright nightmare of course but ‘meh’, in a web 2.0 world where user-generated content was made for sharing, we need services like this to find new ways of adding value to content. Once again the web challenges traditional publishers of content to adapt, and the best of them surely will.

What interests me most about this service and those that will inevitably follow is the ability to create a semi-permanent record of a variety of information sources and publish this as a trail that others can follow. At present, RSS is transient. It presents a moving window of time, a snapshot of the blogosphere for example with items that quickly get replaced as new items are added. Take your favourite weblog for instance. You’ve probably subscribed to its RSS feed in your aggregator. What you’ll likely have therefore is the most recent 10 or 20 posts. The rest, the older posts, are history and no longer show up in the feed. Now that’s not a problem to most people, largely because of the ephemeral nature of weblogs. But my point is that RSS could give us so much more.

Suppose I’m interested in a health topic. I could search a database of published literature to find the latest evidence for a new treatment, and if I’m lucky I can save that search as an RSS feed (although every time new evidence is published in this topic the new data will push the old data out of the feed). I can also subscribe to a variety of other information sources on the same topic. I can aggregate for myself at least some of the information I’m looking for. It is not so easy though to then pass this information on to you, and certainly not in a way that you can add value to and pass it on to others. I think this is where Yahoo Pipes, and future similar services with a slightly more intuitive interface fit in.

One final example. Suppose I’m learning about a topic as part of a course, or maybe I’m the teacher. I find some great resources scattered across a number of RSS feeds, plus many resources that aren’t yet in a feed (because sadly most academic sources of content such as libraries and repositories are slow to pick up on RSS). Add to this some resources that I might have created for myself. What I’d really like to do is to share my resources as a trail of content links for my fellow learners. This is a great application for RSS. It’s important to recognize that this isn’t the same as blogging about them and having people subscribe to my blog’s RSS feed. Not the same at all. I believe we’ve only just started to see the usefulness of RSS, and Yahoo Pipes is one of the first services to show us new uses.

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