Bloglines Supports Cascading Style Sheets

Bloglines latest innovation will blur the line between reading a news item in its “native” form and reading it via RSS even further. In an announcement Tuesday (18 September), Bloglines released limited support for Cascading Style Sheets within blog posts that it displays.
In other words, if I’m doing this right, if you are reading this at Bloglines (or at, this paragraph will have a bright blue background. That’s because I added the inline style “style=’background-color: #00A0E1′” to the <span> tag that starts this paragraph.
Bloglines has restricted the range of CSS values it allows — to prevent clever (or malicious) RSS creators from wreaking havoc with the interface. A (lengthy) list of allowed styles is on the Bloglines site.
While offering its users a richer reading experience, Bloglines is also making the distinction between the blog page and the RSS feed even smaller.

Copyright, RSS, and Common Sense

Of the many interesting cans of worms that content syndication tools — RSS feeds in particular — open, one of the most significant is copyright. The issue becomes particularly interesting when the RSS feed is the same as the site — that is, when the blog’s author chooses to republish the entire content of an article via RSS.
I think many people assume that, by making content available through RSS or other syndication tools, the content’s author has implicitly permitted that content to be used by others. Common practice shows this to be a frequent interpretation. I’m sure many of my fellow bloggers have been as annoyed as I am when I discover that RSS4Lib’s content is being reproduced, in its entirety, on another web site whose sole purpose appears to be selling advertisements.
Common practice notwithstanding, reproducing blog content wholesale is wrong, barring a license explicitly granted in the feed or on the originating web site. RSS feeds are protected by copyright just as much as any other work.
There are several mechanisms, of course, for stating your licensing terms. While copyright law (in the United States, at least) does not require an explicit statement of copyright for the item to be protected, it’s common sense to do so. You can put a statement on your blog — and it’s probably wise to do so on each post or page, using your weblog software’s templates. It’s also possible, and advisable, to put copyright statements in your feeds:

  • The RSS 2.0 specification includes a copyright statement for the entire feed, in the channel’s <copyright> field, but not for a particular entry.
  • The Atom draft specification has a <rights> field for both the feed and individual entries.

In practical terms, of course, whatever the rights are and however they are declared, they’re hard to enforce.
I suspect many of us are happy to have our content included in services like Google Reader, Bloglines, and the like — after all, we’re writing to be read. Short or long excerpts from our posts being used in the context of another blogger’s post are also fine with most of us — that’s how discussion happens. At the other end of the scale, I would bet that most of us are less sanguine about our content being reproduced, in whole, for financial gain, by someone else.
Somewhere in the middle is a potential Google project — described at TechCrunch in a post titled Google May Add Comment Feature On Shared Reader Feeds — in which users could comment on blog posts within the context of Google Reader. Such a project, if implemented, would move the conversations and discussions about our blog posts from our blogs into “Googlespace,” which all too often is akin to a black hole: things go in, but don’t come out. I’m not knowledgeable enough about copyright to weight in on the legality of appropriating bloggers’ content, reproducing it, and fostering interaction around it without explicit permission, but to me, it’s questionable. If this project comes to fruition, it could seriously infringe on the way we as bloggers — librarian or otherwise — interact with our users and our patrons.

JISC Study on Students and Technology

Another interesting item from JISC: The Student Expectations Study (I previously wrote about JISC in ticTOCs: Journal Tables of Contents). This study, conducted in the UK, had in-depth interviews with 27 students between the ages of 15-18 in a focus group setting and a follow-up survey of about 500 students with ages between 16 and 18.
The survey covered several topics:

  • Current levels of ICT [Information and Computer Technology] provision at school/college
  • Expectations of ICT provision at university
  • Any difference between expectation of ICT provision and that which is provided by HE [Higher Education] institutions

The full report is a 49-page, 1MB PDF document filled with interesting tidbits about these students’ vision of technology. To quote the conclusion (p. 29):

The audience for our research thinks that technology should:

  • Support established methods of teaching and admin[instration];
  • Act as an additional resource for research and communication;
  • Be a core part of social engagement and facilitate face-to-face friendships at university.

These principles run across all groups identified in the online research. Those who are leading edge users or have high use of ICT at school are perhaps more technology savvy and open to its use, but they do not want technology to encroach on their learning or social experiences.
Fundamentally, this age group suspects that if all learning is mediated through technology, this will diminish the value of the learning. [Emphasis mine]

The last point, that the survey respondents view mixing technology and education with a jaundiced eye, is an interesting one for our profession, and for education more broadly.
Update 13 Sept 2007 See also the The ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2007 for a similar study of U.S. undergraduate students.

Gale and RSS Feeds

Gale databases now offer RSS feeds for your searches — and, as well they should, include your institution’s proxy server in the full-text URL. Which means, of course, that if you set up the RSS feed as an authorized user for your institution, you’ll be able to get to the full text of new items on- or off-premises.
Note the RSS icon and “Create a Search Alert” text in the upper right of the image.
RSS feeds do not seem to be available in all Gale databases; it is present (in the example above) in Academic OneFile, but not in, for example, Biography and Genealogy Master Index.