After sticking with Movable Type for far too long, I took the plunge and migrated RSS4Lib to WordPress last night. I think most of the wonkiness is resolved now… But if you can’t find something, please let me know through the comments.
Looks like the upgrade went smoothly. Please let me know in the comments or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org if you see anything wonky that you want to report.
I’m doing a long-overdue upgrade of Movable Type tonight. Back, I hope, soon.
Thanks to the 137 of you who have taken the quick subscriber survey that I posted on November 8. Based on my best-guess estimate of my readership on this date, I had 1513 feed subscribers on November 7, the day before I launched the poll. This represents a respectable 9% response rate.
I asked three questions in the survey:
- Do you subscribe to the RSS4Lib RSS feed?
- What tool were you using when you saw the post about this survey?
- Where did you first see the link to this survey?
Of people who took the survey in the first two weeks (7:15 AM EST November 8 – 7:15 AM EST November 22), 96.2% (127 of 132) respondents were subscribers. Interestingly, though not necessarily significant, two of the non-subscribers ho took the survey in week 1; the other three did so in the week 2. Part way through week 3, all five of the additional surveys submitted have been by subscribers.
Of the five non-subscribers who took the survey in the first two weeks, three were at RSS4Lib when they saw the survey and two saw it linked in another blog.
Web-based aggregators are the clear favorite among respondents. Bloglines has a 43.9% share of the first two weeks’ respondents (including eight users of Bloglines Beta). Next is Google Reader, with 42 users (31.8%). The numbers then dwindle dramatically, with five people reporting they use Sage Firefox extension and three or fewer using a variety of other tools.
Finally, I asked respondents where they saw the link to the survey. An overwhelming number of respondents (115, 87.1%) saw the survey link in RSS4Lib’s RSS feed. Of the remaining 17 respondents, five noticed it on the RSS4Lib site, five at unspecified “other” or “don’t know,” and four others in various other blogs. From reviewing the referer logs and respondent comments, I note that two of the four came from the University of Michigan library’s “superfeed of library and librarian blogs and two others came from blogrolls at other sites.
I also captured the user agent (the way the web browser or application identifies itself to the web server). Firefox is the browser of choice for two thirds (88 of 132) respondents, followed at 30.3% (40 of 132 respondents) by a mix of tools that don’t identify themselves, followed finally by Safari (2 respondents), Internet Explorer (1), and Vienna (1). Mac users, by the way, account for 17.3% of respondents whose user agent identified itself, with Windows users making up the remaining 82.7% (only two user agent’s identified themselves as being Vista).
I’ve been interested to see the ‘long tail’ of survey respondents. More than half — 58.3% — of respondents took the survey on the day I posted it (November 8). Responses have dwindled to fewer than 10 on all days after that, but even now, more than two weeks after its appearance, one or two subscribers are still taking it a day.
The French information service XiTi released results of a study exploring the effect RSS feeds have on site readership. They summarize their findings in Web 2.0 : impact des flux RSS sur les visites des sites Web (also available in an English version, Web 2.0:
Impact of RSS feeds on the visits of Websites). The study reviewed 53 websites audited by XiTi’s web analytics software from May 1-31, 2007. The list of sites is not provided.
They report that the impact of RSS feeds on site readership is mixed. Among the sites they reviewed, 1.8% of site visitors came to the site from an RSS feed. Users who came via RSS feeds accounted for fewer multi-page visits than those who came in from other sources (43% of site visitors who came from an RSS feed viewed two or more pages, while 51% of visitors from other sources visited two or more pages). The study also found that visitors who start with RSS feeds view slightly fewer pages overall (7.1 vs. 8.5 for those arriving from other sources), spend slightly less time on each page (50 seconds vs. 52 seconds), and somewhat less time on the site overall (5 minutes 53 seconds vs. 7 minutes 19 seconds).
The study suggests that RSS readers are more focused — they know what they are looking for and access those pages directly, from a feed — and visit more routinely than other users. They have perhaps already reviewed the site’s existing content and only want or need the new materials. The study does not draw any conclusions, but suggests that these figures bear watching as RSS becomes more prevalent.
The time spent on a page and the number of pages visits has significance primarily for commercial sites (especially those that sell advertising and who want to maximize both the number and duration of site visits). Libraries have a different focus, of course — we are, generally, more interested in getting the user to the single (or few) best resources to meet their specific needs — and not to have them spend time poking around the site. The sites included in XiTi’s survey are not named, but are presumably commercial in nature. A similar study for RSS feeds in academic/public libraries would be interesting.
A recent study by the International Center for Media and the Public Agenda focused on International News and Problems with the News Media’s RSS Feeds. While this study examined 19 major international news services, ranging from ABC News to The Guardian to Al Jazeera’s English service, it draws some lessons that are applicable to libraries as well.
In detailed conclusions, the study noted several problems with RSS as implemented by the news organizations included in the study:
- RSS is not well used for tracking specific news topics throughout the day — but it is well suited for a daily recap: “[I]f a user wants specific news on any subject from any of the 19 news outlets the research team looked at, he or she must still track the news down website by website.”
- News services often only include their own content in feeds, not content drawn from traditional news syndicators like AP or Reuters. Relying on the New York Times’ feed, for example, would lead one to believe that nothing of note happens throughout the day, between the press time of one day’s issue and the next. USA Today, in contrast, includes other new services’ content in its feeds, providing a more frequently updated service. “[W]hat is lost by the Times not sending the wire service articles are valuable updates on storiesâand a breadth of stories that the Times can’t hope to duplicate with its own staff … which is, after all, presumably why they make the stories accessible on their website in the first place.”
- RSS feed items often do not provide sufficient attribution to identify where that partiuclar [sic] item came from. “All the RSS feeds from the news outlets previewed their stories with a headline and a line or two of description, but very few of the outlets gave additional important information: the date the story was from, the story’s byline (author) and dateline (where the story originated), and the time the story was posted.” Since RSS feeds exist to be widely distributed, not including this basic information in a feed item can mean that the reader of it may not recognize it as valuable or coming from a trusted source.
Libraries should take these — and the other conclusions in the full report — into consideration. RSS provides a wealth of benefits to libraries that use it: ease of replicating content across a site, getting the word out, sharing news and information with community groups. Yet that value can be diminished if a few common-sense actions are ignored. When you build your feed, make sure that the serendipitous recipient of a given item can easily discern who wrote it, when it was written, and who published it. Give your reader the opportunity to recognize your organization’s good name and reputation — and your feed the opportunity to build trust and confidence in you.
Paul Pival notes a survey of Blogs in Academic Libraries being conducted by Shelly Drum. I look forward to seeing the results of the survey when it’s complete.
If your library runs an outward-facing blog, take a few minutes (and that’s all it took me) to fill out the survey: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.asp?u=773202839763. If you aren’t running a public-facing library blog and want to see the responses to date, simply click “Exit this survey” from the first page, without entering any data.
Jeremy Keith wrote some time ago about “Streaming my life away — where he talks about the possibility of integrating RSS streams from all the various tools he uses. He calls this new mix a “life stream” and provides an overview of what he does with his time. It integrates feeds from Twitter, Flickr, Del.icio.us, Last.fm, and the various blogs to which he posts. The aggregate of his online activity is impressive when rendered in chronological format, as it is.
Steve, one of five bloggers who writes “Circulatable: A Librarian’s Group,” wrote about Jeremy’s application in a post titled “
PaperRSS Trails” and wondered about the possible application of this technology to library life. Steve noted that he and a librarian colleague wrote an article using Writeboard, which offers an RSS feed to help you keep track of other’s activities in the collaboration space. He suggested combining this information with a feed from Refworks, and wondered what sort of profile would result from aggregating feeds used by someone in their research activities.
I have thought a great deal about the ways librarians might use RSS to push relevant information to researchers. I had not considered the flip side of that proposition: that the aggregate of a researcher’s RSS feeds might serve as a powerful profile of that researcher’s interests. If librarians could keep track of a researcher’s interests by reviewing, in real time, that person’s RSS feeds, the library could offer better — more precise and timely — reference services.
Having access to a scholar’s feeds — even if only the research oriented ones — also opens some interesting questions of academic freedom and privacy. Having come from a corporate background, where the presumption of individual privacy on the office network was nil, I have found the academic concept of privacy refreshing. (To be honest, I’ve also found it a bit frustrating at times as it limits the scope of data mining within the academic environment by shielding users — myself included, of course — in a level of anonymity that makes it more difficult to provide individually tailored alert services, RSS or otherwise.)
I also wonder how this concept of privacy will change in academic settings as services like Del.icio.us, flickr, and the rest become more common. What degree of privacy will people give up over the long term to take part in these virtual communities? What will it look like when that fuzzy space at the intersection of individual privacy and group interaction becomes clear?
A book that Information Today will publish on October 31 looks very interesting. It’s Blogging and RSS: A Librarian’s Guide by Michael Sauers. While I haven’t read the book yet (I’m not on anybody’s PR list…), the abstract at Amazon makes it look very interesting:
I’ve preordered it… And will post a review here once I’ve read it.