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September 25, 2008

By Cromity, Jamal

THERE ARE SOME GREAT COMBINATIONS OF WEB 2.0 TOOLS THAT CAN ENHANCE STANDARD WEB PAGES, ALERTS, NEWSLETTERS AND LIST-SERVES AND THEY CAN BE INCORPORATED INTO YOUR WORKFLOWS RIGHT NOW Are you looking for better ways to share much needed information? There are some great combinations of Web 2.0 tools that can enhance standard Web pages, alerts, newsletters and list-serves and they can be incorporated into your workflows right now! The Web 2.0 technologies I am referring to are a combination of any RSS (Real Simple Syndication) editors, RSS feeds and the new RSS to HTML mash-ups tools.

For some time now, tools like blogs, wikis and RSS feeds have become more popular as social knowledgesharing tools. Every search engine on the Internet offers them or has some form of access to these mediums, and there a number of articles about blogs, wikis and RSS trends, and how they can be used in different types of libraries. Unfortunately, too many librarians still find it difficult to keep up with articles on Web 2.0, SLA conference seminars and Web offerings. Some say they do not have the time and others just find it hard to grasp the technology.

What makes these tools so cool is that, by updating one source, they can efficiently update multiple Web pages and, best of all, the updating can be a shared responsibility. Using the combination of RSS and mash-up converters will save time and allow librarians managing Web communications to work smarter, not harder.

RSS Content and Mash-Up Tools

If you search the Internet, you will find that just about every Web 2.0 service will offer content in RSS format. Blogs are probably the most common medium for large content editing that are RSS ready. Even SLA’s Connections newsletter has most recently transitioned into a blog format to improve how information is shared. There are a number of open-source services like WordPress (www.wordpress.com) or Blogger by Google (www.blogger.com). However, many calendar services like Spongecell (www.spongcell.com) and Localendar (www.localendar.com) offer editable RSS content as well. What makes all these types of content management sources so appealing is that they are easy to use, and management of each service is Web accessible from anywhere via login. In addition, users can display and follow updated content from any standard RSS Reader.

Today, we can take this flexible formatting of RSS content a step further by using mash-up tools, making it possible to incorporate RSS feeds into a variety of additional Web mediums, such as public Web pages, intranets, and Web-based newsletters. The feeds are integrated using either free or fee-based mash-up tools which can convert the RSS XML into HTML. While you will need to know a small amount of DHTML and JavaScript or PHP, development implementation is relatively simple. A great place to learn the free method of XML and RSS integration is through Dynamic Drive (www.dynamicdrive.com/). The scripts are free and the RSS feed displayer script uses Google’s Ajax Feed API to host the desired RSS feeds on Google’s free servers. You can also get feed conversion scripting from RSSinclude (www.rss-info.com) or RSS-to-Javascript (www.rss-to- javascript.com).

Whether you are using a blog feed or one of the new RSS creator and editor tools like FeedforAII (www.feedforall. com/), you can easily manage, share and view the feed information across the Internet, extranet, intranets, portals, email, e-newsletters, RSS readers and enterprise content management tools. Combining these tools is an effective and inexpensive way to strengthen communication within your company, reaching the masses through the various Web-based sources. As noted by Bettina Fabricius Skov Christensen, a Librarian at H.Lundbeck A/S, an international pharmaceutical company, “We have integrated a blog function in our enduser database interface, and we are very pleased with especially the flexibility of this tool….” At Lundbeck, they use the combination of the tools to coordinate different resources, and are able to post any changes as well as broadcast messages or news in a timely manner.

My Chapter’s Experience

For the past two years, I have had firsthand experience on how well these Web 2.0 tools can work. As the webmaster for the North Carolina Special Library Association, it has been a great experience to learn how each script can be used. There are three blogs, created with Google’s Blogger.com, integrated into the NCSLA site- Activities and Events; Job Post; and Info Sharing. The “At a Glance” area of the home page is an example of the RSS feed displayer from Dynamic Drive. The blogs serve not only as stand-alone pages that visitors can link to directly, but the content from each blog is integrated into the Web site by using RSSinclude integration. Technically, the content can be repurposed into any Web page desired.

The feature I love the most in blogger. com is the ability to make others either contributors or authors of the blogs. By sharing the blogging responsibility, the appropriate members of the association can manage the blogs, keeping the community informed about events while simultaneously keeping the Web site content updated. Development of the site was free and easy. Best of all, the board members are more intricately involved with maintaining the Web site, which informs both the NCSLA membership, as well as anyone else who visits the site.

Explained best by Mary Schwartz, the Senior Librarian of the Center for Creative Leadership and President Elect of the NCSLA Chapter, “As soon as I got authorization, I posted five event notices in less than five minutes. In the next five minutes, I sent an abbreviated promo to the discussion list using the post URLs to link readers back to the Chapter blog for further details.” We both noted that not only was it easy but it helped users make clean- looking event notices that generated awesome results.

Privacy Concerns and More

If you have access to an internal server, it might be in your best interest to use an enterprise tool that can be controlled behind your company’s firewall. If you decide to use free services, be sure to read their content policy concerning privacy and confidentially. As mentioned, there are a variety of free open- source tools that can be used on the web. However, there are also a great many services that offer enterprise software that must be downloaded onto internal servers.

Keep in mind that services like Blogger.com and WordPress.com both give you the ability to restrict your sites to users you choose and limit viewing from the World Wide Web. Spamming and transmitting viruses are not permitted by most services.

With the exception of Google’s Ajax Feed API, the other free services include a link back to their service at the very bottom of the feed results. Needless to say, you can purchase the ad-free version of these feeds from those services who offer upgrades. Note that some RSS converter mash-ups offer additional features allowing manipulation of links, fonts, paragraph sizes and colors. RSS feeds are generally asynchronous which means changes are not made instantly. Usually, the feed is updated within one to fifteen minutes of the last modification.

So if you want to strengthen communication across your organization or if you desire a better way to share information throughout your SLA Chapter, try using the combination of RSS content and Web integration mash-up tools. These tools offer are very practical and cost effective means of connecting with viewers, while making your services more visible through various Web media, such as intranets, portals, email, e-newsletters, RSS readers and more.

Using the combination of RSS and mashup converters will save time and allow librarians managing Web communications to work smarter, not harder.

With free editor tools such as FeedforAII you can easily manage, share and view the feed information across Web media. Another great free tool: RSS-to-JavaScript was designed to easily convert any valid RSS, RDF or ATOM feed into easy-to-implement Javascript.

References:

Info News (2008). SLA Connections Goes Weekly, Transitions Content to New ‘Blog’ format. Information Outlook, June, Vol 12, p. 9.

Stephans, Michael (2007). Web 2.0 and You. American Libraries, December, p. 32.

Siess, Judith (2003). Visible Librarian: Asserting our Value with Marketing and Advocacy. Chicago, IL: ALA Edition

JAMAL CROMITY is a 1998 American Library Association Spectrum Scholar. He is a winner of the NCSLA 2008 Horizon Award and has Master degrees in Library Science (MLS) and Business Administration (MBA). He is a Product Developer for Dialog, Proquest, where he is responsible for developing new products and solutions for research needs of clients using Dialog products. Jamal is also a coach in the Quantum2 program, a leadership development program, provided by Dialog. He can be reached at jamal.cromity@dialog.com.

Copyright Special Libraries Association Aug 2008

(c) 2008 Information Outlook. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.




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