Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Using RSS is like having a 28-hour day

When I talk about social media and Internet-based market intelligence tactics, I try to avoid too much tech-talk. I'm showing non-technical business people how these tools can make them more effective and efficient in their work, and for the most part, it's not really a technology topic. You can do most of what I talk about with your web browser and e-mail client. All you have to learn are a few new web sites and, more importantly, a way of thinking about how these services can be useful.

The one exception is RSS. A feed reader with relevant subscriptions converts your web-based information habits from a tool that you use to an autonomous system that actively scans the Internet for the information you want. I've always been a fan of letting the computer do work for me whenever possible, and this is a big step in that direction.

RSS automates information-gathering tasks, freeing you to focus on things that matter. The simplest use of RSS is to gather the latest updates from sites you follow, so instead of visiting each site with your web browser to see what's changed, your feed reader retrieves it for quick scanning. RSS is growing in popularity, so you're likely to find it in a wide variety of sites relevant to your role or business.

What kinds of sources can you track? Trade journals (both print and online-only). Local and regional news media. News services for items about your company, competitors, customers, or partners. Blogs from industry insiders, analysts or observers. Professional associations and their newsletters. And the big one is search engines, which now offer subscriptions to search results through RSS and e-mail. Your feed reader is the tool that allows you to track topics of interest as soon as new items appear on the Internet.

Sound useful? That's why RSS is the exception to my goal of avoiding tech-talk when I discuss new Internet tools for business. It's still an early-adopter tool. Most Internet users are unaware of RSS, and some IT departments would rather block RSS feeds as a waste of resouces (see HR and legal perspectives). But it's a powerful tool for anyone who values the efficient gathering of pertinent information.

If expertise and current knowledge are relevant in your position, you need to learn how to use RSS.

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