Sunday, 2 October 2011

Digital journalism tools

Every day I trawl through dozens of sites to get the latest news, travel tips and music reviews. For as long as I can remember, I have always noticed the little orange box in the corner of a web page yet steered well away from it with the firm belief that RSS feeds are too technical for my liking.

It turns out that I could be saving myself a lot time if I was brave enough to explore the mystery behind the little orange boxes. As our own digital guru, Andy Dickinson, a.k.a digidickinson, explains, RSS feeds are in fact simple to use and wonderfully convenient at saving you time. In a 3-hour digital journalism class he introduces us to Google Reader. It allows you to subscribe to numerous RSS feeds, i.e. the little orange boxes on a website, from where you must copy the RSS link and paste it into your Google Reader profile. This means that you now get all the information you want to receive in one place as Google Reader filters information from your favourite websites, updating you with the latest content from each, based on the order it is published.

What’s even more useful is that you can group your feeds into appropriate folders to optimise your browsing in one feed. For example, I have a ‘Travel News’ feed where I have subscribed via RSS to National Geographic Traveller and Guardian Travel. As my beat for my practical journalism module is environment, I also subscribed to the environment sections of the BBC and Preston’s local paper, the Lancashire Evening Post. The feeds from these sites are grouped under ‘Environment News’. So now, instead of visiting dozens of websites, I just log into Google Reader and the content from my subscriptions is there, ready for me to browse and read, and even star articles that I wish to come back to later. I’ll be clicking the little orange boxes more, now that I have discovered Google Reader.

Diagram shows how RSS serves as the mechanism for syndication and aggregation of RSS-enabled Web content - meaning that RSS feeds are useful for online users and beneficial to publishers too. 
Illustration by Jason Rhodes
Digidickinson then moved onto Delicious. The basis of this site is to collect links that you find worth sharing. The site offers elements of social networking whereby users are able to search, view and share each other’s lists of links. These lists can include the most unusual content such as ‘Zombie Apocalypse Survival Guide’ to more special interest links such as ‘Mosaic Sculpture Gardens’. Once more, this site is a useful time saver. You can search any topic and a pre-made list of links will present itself to you. Furthermore, if the links are on Delicious, then no doubt, an online user thought they were worth sharing and could prove more useful than 750 pages of Google or Bing results.

Then, we go onto, a social bookmarking tool that fulfills the users needs for ‘data curation’. Its homepage reads –‘…the easiest way to save links online’ – and that is exactly what it is. Great for storing links to things on the web you may want to return to later – and especially great – because you can access these links from any computer, unlike a bookmark, which is specifically saved to your own laptop. also remembers any links that you share on your online platforms, whether that be on Twitter, Facebook, your blog or even Google Reader. All your links are stored here so you don’t have to trawl through your internet history to find them again. 

Enter Twitterfeed – an online (re)distribution tool that acts as a self promotion platform. Twitterfeed will automatically tweet new posts that you publish onto your blog. So, once I’ve written this, my humble following of 600+ tweeps will see a link to this very post on their timeline. The most exciting online platform that our digital mastermind introduced us to, is something he uses to inform his students of his whereabouts – incase they struggle to cope with him not being in his office. He does this through ifttt (if this then that). The site automates feeds based on trigger events. These commands can trigger by dates and times and link to other social network platforms. For example, digidickinson will create a trigger that on Thursday afternoons between 12-3, his twitter page @wheresandy will post a tweet that reads, ‘I’m teaching postgrads til 3pm’. Obviously, very useful for the long queue of undergrads waiting to see him!

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