Content Management Systems (CMSs) help create identity, community and collaboration, and Rich Site Summary (RSS) automates and fosters communication within and between these identities and communities. If CMS-based websites are like silos of knowledge on specialised issues, RSS is like the wind that blows between them, cross-polinating all the ideas, people and communities along the way. Aaaaaahh... sounds del.icio.us to me.
Anybody wanting to have "presence" online today should be looking into how they too can both use and provide RSS feeds such as del.icio.us does. Integrating web-based RSS generation services into personal or organisational websites is a simple and yet extremely powerful and combination which should be integrated into any all online communication strategies.
A while ago I met up with Mike from OpenConcept.ca to chat about technology, on-line activism and Content Management Systems (CMS) such as Drupal (which I use a lot) and Backend (that he is a principle developer of). At one point he asked me what I thought of del.icio.us. I realised that I had never actually used this service and therefore only had a vague idea of what it was all about. I promissed myself to look into it ASAP, but soon I was swamped with other Good Things To Do so I never got around to it. Then today I saw this post from Robin Millette (IM2|OQP) in the "My Friends' Feeds" box on my blog. Not only is it always great to see someone I know doing something cool, here was another person talking about del.icio.us again. So I decided to try it out.
Firstly, what is del.icio.us? It is a website that, on the one hand, let's you categorise and share your list of favorite websites/bookmarks with the rest of the world, and on the other hand, allows you to do keyword searches through other peoples websites/bookmarks. So, for example, one can find all the links that people submitted with the tags "technology" and "activism". The extra-special twist, however, is that one can then export any of these searches as RSS feeds (note that there is nothing fancy about the URL syntax here; it simply points to http://del.icio.us/rss/tag/technology+activism). This is special because it makes it possible for me to easily aggregate and integrate these links back into my website or inbox. Furthermore, I have enormous flexibility on whose content I want to include and how since I can use del.icio.us (i.e. a third-party service) AND/OR my website/CMS to aggregate and manipulate the content.
Time to get to business... I created a free account with del.icio.us and uploaded a single URL. Within five minutes I had used the RSS aggregator and "block" functionality of my Drupal website to integrate my del.icio.us RSS feed back into a "My del.icio.us Links" box my weblinks page. Nice... :-) Of course, I could create a whole bunch of individual content boxes/pages on my website featuring my friends' links (e.g. "JohnBob's del.icio.us links") or I could save some space by aggregating them all into a single box/page (e.g. "My Friends' del.icio.us Links"). It would only take minutes to set this up in Drupal. Alternatively, I can get del.icio.us to do some of the aggregation by creating a search (as described above) for all the links with "quebec", "technology" and "activism" and then creating a box based on that (see "del.icio.us : quebec + technology + activism" box my weblinks page).
The beauty of it is that all this goes way beyond del.icio.us or Drupal. Del.icio.us is just one of the thousands of CMS-based RSS feed generators out there serving feeds for other CMSs which, in turn, filter, re-organise, prioritise and process the information and spit out more RSS feeds and so on and so on.
CMSs provide a powerful platform for individuals and groups to develop identity and to work and manage information collaboratively. RSS enables these individuals and communities to exchange information with other individuals and communities in an extremely efficient and organic fashion.
Considering the power, scope and increasing simplicity of the CMS and RSS generators already available, as well as the capacity that these tools have to create and consolidate communities and build trusting relationships, there is virtually no limit to the sophistication and complexity of communications strategies and partnerships. One can only imagine what the future has in store in terms of technologically facilitated collective action.
Some might say, "OK it's 'simple' and 'powerful' but the technology has been around for a while so what's so new about it?" Well, let's take a moment to put things into perspective. Consider the evolution and impact of the printing press (what less than 500 years ago?), the telegraph, radio, telephones and television ( < 150 years ago?!), the web ( < 15 years ago?!!), blogging (< 5?!!!), etc... You see where I'm going with this? This is very new stuff. Moreover, many seem to think that the coporate world and the IT sector have already been-there-done-that and flushed out all the "interesting" possibilities. This is far from being true. Remember, "interest" is in the eye of the beholder and so far application of technology has largely reflect the profit-driven interests of individuals and coporations rather than collectives and coop. A wide range of viable social, democratic and community-oriented applications haven't even been tried yet.
Both organisations and individuals would be wise to devote some time and energy to developing communications and partnership strategies based on RSS syndication and aggregation. After all, as we have repeatedly witnessed in the private sector, simple content sharing agreements have given birth to whole industries.