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Jenny and Michael Feeling Their Oats

First, Jenny.

Cites & Insights is an interesting newsletter, but I confess that with my heavy non-work reading schedule I don’t always make personal time to print and read a 20-plus-page PDF that is essentially one guy’s take on the library world–sometimes fun, but the print format competes with my limited personal reading and my voluminous writing and reading workload for school. However, I did print out the last issue and read it on the plane to Toronto, then bit my tongue not once but several times.

I chose not to take issue with Walt’s assessment of my contribution to the Web4Lib discussion about Wikipedia, although a search of the archives and my own posts on FRL reveal that I was in no way defending the “print encyclopedia.” That was Lars’ arrogantly reductive, faintly misogynist take on my analysis (see Lars’ comments about fashion magazines), not what I said or what I think.

Then I strongly considered addressing Walt’s swipe at “excitable bloggers” who have praised Sirsi for including RSS feeds, but instead restricted myself to a comment in my OLA Conblog about using “elevator intervals” to explain technology to lastgen geeks who are not getting it. Turns out I didn’t have to say a thing, because on Shifted Librarian, Jenny Levine unsparingly whaled into Walt in a powerful, evidence-driven and fact-based post that could be any tech evangelist’s roman a clef.

Jenny makes short work of the trivialization and misrepresentation of the adoption of RSS, noting that no one has argued replacing email announcements with RSS. At LII, not only are we not abandoning our email newsletter, this year we’re redesigning it and making it better. Having said that, RSS usage of LII is skyrocketing, and email subscriptions are slowly dropping off–which makes me wonder if I should spend a little less time worrying about the design of the email newsletter and more time thinking about how to best use RSS to deliver New This Week. I will continue to support email newsletters for as long as we need to, but many of our not-so-techy readers tell us they prefer RSS, they like not having to fish our newsletter out of their spam box, and they enjoy other benefits of being introduced to the blog-oriented world. I would dearly love to get away from list management heartache for LII; it’s time I could use more effectively. I would imagine many libraries that are providing email services to users would echo that comment.

It’s a beautiful thing when Jenny does the math for how much time could be saved if ILS vendors provided RSS capability: “Let’s say that only half of them might actually take advantage of RSS feeds to change how they display new titles on their web sites. If this saved just one hour per month for 1,850 libraries, native RSS feeds would save Illinois librarians 22,200 hours in just one year.”

As for people not understanding what RSS is, it’s all how you market it. Walt quotes an ILS vendor asking “where are the customers who want this?” My response is “under your nose.” I don’t know how my refrigerator works, but I still own one and know how to use it (except when I get absent-minded and put the milk in the freezer). A lot of people are reading blogs and catching feeds without a clue that’s what they are doing, and that’s when you know a service works. Furthermore, if you want to get into tinkering with the stats from the Pew Report on blogging, note that RSS–with its funky name and competing standards–is already recognized and used by 5% of Internet users. I was startled recognition of RSS was that high; I expected our own LII users to be on the bus, because we teach them how to use it to get to something they want (that is, our newsletter, New This Week), but those stats left me wondering how many more people are using RSS blissfully unaware of it, or will adopt it following some of the media coverage of this new tool in late 2004.

Jenny also makes clear that many vendors aren’t providing email services anyway. If you’re starting from the bottom up, explain to me why you would start with a difficult legacy delivery mechanism–an assessment of email I feel more than qualified to make, based on my experience managing large lists. If I were providing a new announcement service from the ground up, I’d be very inclined to provide it as an RSS feed bundled into an aggregator, and just say “this is an easy way to get this information.” Based on my own, evidence-driven assessment, that’s an accurate statement.

At any rate, read Jenny’s post. Go, girl!

As for Michael Stephens, he launched a maiden voyage into podcasting a day or two ago; his piece is fun to listen to, and yes, it works in my podcasting aggregator. This alone made me switch to his RSS 2 feed, which will pick up his recording if you drop it into ipodder or the like. I wonder if RSS 2 is going to obliterate older RSS standards this year and become the de facto standard? ‘Twould be fine by me. It might even make me a little “excitable.”

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