My entry, yesterday, on RSS attracted a good deal of response from some people I respect a lot. I guess that it really isn’t all that important which metaphor you use, as long as it’s logical and as long as it connects. I posted a response to the conversation that emerged, and thought that I would post it here as well, as the discussion expanded into something larger.
But, it is good to be having these conversations, because as the new school year begins, we’ll be explaining this stuff again to educators, trying to get them to join this new information landscape.
Here are my comments:
Wow! It seems like almost all of my 17 readers are responding to this one (problem is that when I’m being serious, people think I’m joking, and when I’m joking, people think I’m being serious.) I agree with Cherrie, that RSS is a simple concept, especially when, as Shawn says, we don’t use words like aggregator.
I suspect that we won’t be able to delete that word though, any more than we’ll be able to change what a podcast is called. But, back to Cherrie, I suspect that she is right. It’s new. It’s technology, which doesn’t help, but dynamic (living) content is a little frightening to folks, especially educators who need firm foundations upon which to stand — gravity and all (see Flat Classrooms). Dynamic (digital networked) information really changes a lot of things, not to mention our very notions of literacy.
The approach I’ve been taking is trying to convince educators how important dynamic information is in a time of rapid change. When we are asking brand new questions and solving brand new problems, the answers will frequently come out of the conversations of dynamic information.
Anyway, back to the task at hand, I really like Dave Jakes approach of likening RSS to magazine subscriptions. I’ve seen him very eloquently present this at conferences and it plugs in especially well since the term is frequently used within the context of RSS.
Still, subscribing refers to the process. I guess my mind, yesterday, lighted on that aggregator — what you’re looking at after you’ve subscribed. This is where the Table of Contents comes in. It is an old convention that everyone is familiar with. It is a primary means of finding information in a book, and it is, exactly, what your subscribed feeds are, when you see them through your aggregator.
The aggregator itself can really be a lot of things. It can be considered your digital library (within which you have dynamic books with tables of contents). Some people think of it as a browser, integrating it into their use of Safari or Firefox. I use Netvibes, which looks very much like a digital newspaper. But when I look at an individual subscription or feed, I see a table of contents of that source of information, giving me logical access to its conversation.