Blogging has been a hot topic here at OD2005. While there’s a lot of interest in blogging as a tool of public conversation, there’s also a lot of skepticism about the quality of information and discourse on blogs.
In my own presentations I have talked both about how to use blogging as an engagement tool and how to use blog tools for improving knowledge-sharing and collaboration among e-deliberation practitioners.
To that end, here’s my list of the 10 technologies and tools that together unlock the power of blogging as a very easy and effective way to track news, discover information, and collaborate with colleagues.
- Really Simple Syndication (RSS): RSS feeds are constantly updated streams of information. Lots of news sites and blogs offer RSS feeds of their content so you can stay up to date on their latest content without having to visit the same sites every day. You can find an official definition, but the most important thing to know is that anytime you see the initials RSS or XML or Atom (another format like RSS) on a web site, you can “subscribe” to its content using an RSS “aggregator”. (And Michael Weiksner tells me that Atom will replace RSS.)
- Bloglines: an RSS aggregator that lets you read and keep track of RSS feeds. This is a great way of creating a one-stop web page for reading all the newspapers and blogs that interest you. Make bloglines your home page and then create a bookmarklet for your toolbar so that anytime you find an interesting blog or news site you want to track, you can subscribe to its RSS feed with just one click. Once you’ve added a few feeds to your Bloglines account you’ll probably want to make your Bloglines page your browser’s news default page so that you’ll always be on top of the latest news in your field and the world. Check out my Bloglines blogroll to see how I use it to keep track of news, blogs, and web resources.
- Technorati: the Google of blogs. A Technorati search is a great way of discovering who is saying what about which topics. For example, you can use Technorati to find out what bloggers are saying about e-democracy. And if you join Technorati you can turn that social security page into a “watchlist” — an RSS feed that you can subscribe to using Bloglines. That way you can stay up-to-date on what bloggers are saying about e-democracy.
- PubSub: Like Technorati, PubSub lets you create an RSS feed on whatever topic(s) you want to track. But it’s not limited to searching blogs: it searches all sorts of RSS-based content, including press releases and newsgroups (usenet groups). You can create some pretty elaborate searches in PubSub and then keep up-to-date on the results using Bloglines. The only downside is you can’t see your results right away; once you set up and subscribe to your search, you have to wait for new things to get written before you’ll see any payoff.
- Blogrolls: that list of other blogs that appears in the sidebar of most blogs you visit. A blogroll is how a blogger tips her cap to fellow bloggers she reads or tracks. If you find a blog you like, check out some of the links in its blogroll, because chances are you’ll like some of those blogs too.
- OPML: a file format for storing blogrolls. Bloglines can automatically create an OPML file of the blogs you subscribe to, which you can use as a blogroll on your own blog, or as a way of enhancing your blog tracking (see below).
- Feedster: Another blog search service, along the lines of Technorati and PubSub. But Feedster has the nifty added feature of letting you create (and subscribe to) searches that are limited to a single OPML file. So if you subscribe to a lot of different blogs and news sites that sometimes write about an issue you care abut (let’s use the e-democracy example again), you can use Feedster to search just those blogs for the term e-democracy. If you’re a BlogLines user, the URL for the OPML file for your public subscriptions (the feeds you’ve included in your publicly viewable blogroll) will be http://www.bloglines.com/export?id=YourUserName
- del.icio.us: An online system for storing links to favourite web sites (”bookmarks”), and for discovering related web sites that you might not find on your own. Del.icio.us lets you assign tags to the web sites you store so that you can find them again, and shows you who else is storing web sites under the same tags. For example, you can create a Bloglines subscription to the RSS feed for the del.icio.us “deliberation” tag as a way of staying on top of new web resources in the deliberation field.
- Blogger: Blogging is contagious. Once you become a regular blog reader you’re likely to get the blogging itch — even if it’s just a way of keeping notes on the other blogs you’re reading (bloggers commenting on bloggers is a proud tradition — that’s why people call the blogosphere an “echo chamber”.) But starting your own blog doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive: you can get your own blog up and running in literally five minutes using Blogger. (You can do this in Bloglines, too.)
- WordPress: Blogging can be a great way of collaborating online. WordPress is a very flexible and extensible blogging platform that allows people to work together easily. The Online Deliberation blog is a WordPress blog that uses a number of enhancements to enhance its collaborative value. If you’re interesting in finding out more about using blogging as a collaboration or conference tool, e-mail me at alex (at) angus-reid (dot) com.