Syndication, syndication, syndication

By Nick Holmes on June 28, 2006
Comments Off on Syndication, syndication, syndication
Filed under Articles, Feeds

First published July 2006 in the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers

The most helpful expansion of the RSS acronym (there are several) is Remote Site Syndication. In this context, syndication refers to making data feeds available from a website in order to provide others with an updated set of content from it (for example latest news). News and blog sites were the first to offer feeds, but increasingly many other types of information are syndicated.

Support for syndication is now developing rapidly. This article recaps on the essentials of RSS, explains why it is set to become ubiquitous and points you to the many RSS feeds now available for lawyers.

Benefits of syndication

The benefits of syndication are that it replaces the “push and pull” of internet publishing with an open “channel” between you and the publisher. You subscribe to feeds that interest you and are then constantly fed updated information, without any action on your part and without disrupting your current activities.

By subscribing to RSS feeds you avoid the need to visit numerous favourite websites to view what’s new (the “pull”). Nor need your inbox fill up with unread email newsletters which arrive not when you want but when the publisher wants (the “push”) and which contain perhaps only one or two items of immediate interest.

[Updated: A good, straightforward, example of an RSS feed and its benefits is provided by the Ministry of Justice. Visit their home page and you’ll see, at the top left, their latest New headlines. Above the headlines is an orange feed icon. This points to the RSS feed for their syndicated News data. By “subscribing” to this feed as described below you will have constant access to these latest headlines without visiting the MoJ site and can simply click straight through to the pages that interest you.]

Subscribe to multiple feeds from diverse sources that interest you and all your current awareness requirements can be met in this manner, from a single point of access on your desktop.

How to read web feeds

Until recently you could read web feeds only with a dedicated desktop reader, via an email or browser add-on, or using a web-hosted service.

The first feed readers to be developed were dedicated desktop applications and these probably still provide the most comprehensive support for managing and viewing feeds. There are many free and low-cost readers, including RSSReader, FeedReader and NewsGator. Once installed, you add feed URLs to your reader and assign the feeds to user-defined folders. You can then browse the latest headlines and extracts provided by the feeds and need click through to the web only to view the full articles. Most importantly, the reader fetches new feed data at user-defined intervals and alerts you when new items are found.

Email and browser add-ons have also been developed, extending the features of Outlook and Internet Explorer to bring feed data within the ambit of applications you use all the time.

Web-hosted services such as MyYahoo and Google’s personalized home page enable you to manage and read feeds without installing any applications locally. If you use Yahoo or Google as your “gatekeeper”, as many of us do, then maintaining a personalised page incorporating your favourite feeds makes some sense, even if you also use another method to read feeds.

While each of these options has its merits, and none is difficult to implement, the vast majority doesn’t want to be troubled with yet another application. The new open-source Firefox browser and Release 7 of Internet Explorer (currently in beta) will change that. Both have feed support built in: in IE as an extension of Favorites, and in Firefox as part of its equivalent bookmarks functionality. Both browsers automatically “discover” feeds on web pages. You then save the feeds to your favorites (bookmarks) and when you click on a favorite, the live headlines from the feed are displayed.

Adoption of Firefox as a preferred browser is on the increase, but IE still dominates and so it is with the full release of IE7 that feed reading will become second nature to the majority and an explosion of ever-more useful feeds will ensue as users discover its benefits.

What feeds are available

There are already numerous feeds published of direct use to the UK lawyer and the number is now increasing rapidly. However, even for the initiated, discovering them is somewhat of a treasure hunt. Fortunately, I’m doing the work for you and you’ll currently find over 110 feeds, classified under subject headings, in the infolaw Lawfinder Feeds catalogue.

Feeds are of value for any time-sensitive data. The vast majority are of news items. As well as numerous, broadly-classified national news feeds, there are now general legal news feeds, for example from The Lawyer and The Times and also specialist legal news feeds from industry magazines such as Contract Journal (construction law news) and Personnel Today (employment law news) and several from Pinsent Masons’ excellent OUT-Law.com IT and e-commerce law site. Some Government Departments are now offering news feeds and feeds classified by subject are available via the info4local service.

Finally, there are of course blog feeds, delivering news and comment from several of the expanding number of law blog sites.

Feeds are valuable also for distributing other types of information, for example, for conveying abstracts of the contents of the latest issue of a journal (eg OUP’s Journal of Intellectual Property Law and Practice), for posting a jobs board (eg Jobs in Law from www.jobs.ac.uk), and for notifying the latest accessions to any type of database (eg SOSIG’s What’s New in Law?).

To discover other new feeds for yourself, on news pages and elsewhere, look out for links that say RSS, XML or Atom feed, or more commonly the orange buttons such as or [rss], or increasingly the “live bookmark” icon . In fact, as mentioned above, Firefox and IE7 automatically discover feeds that are linked on a web page, displaying the live bookmark icon in the URL address bar.

There is no real limit to the type of data that can be syndicated with RSS, and as feed data can be repurposed and (copyright restrictions permitting) republished, the uses to which it can be put go far beyond simple feed reading.