Google closed down its RSS Reader on July 1st and shortly afterwards stories that it had also discontinued RSS alerts started to circulate. The first one I saw was by Google Operating System (Google Alerts Drops RSS Feeds http://googlesystem.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/google-alerts-drops-rss-feeds.html) quickly followed by Search Engine Land (Google Alerts Drops RSS Delivery Option http://searchengineland.com/google-alerts-drops-rss-delivery-option-165709). Both reported that when they went to manage their RSS alerts Google told them that they would have to convert all of their feeds to email alerts. From this it was assumed that Google had decided to abandon RSS altogether, which confused me because I was still receiving RSS feeds for alerts I had set up in News and Blogs. It transpires that Google no longer offers alerts for web searches. That is no great loss to me as I have always found the web alerts to be unreliable. News and blog search alerts are a different matter, though, as I usually have about 70-80 running at any one time. I could set up a separate email account for the alerts but I find it so much easier to organise and view them in an RSS reader.
Two weeks later and my feeds continue to come through. I can still set up new alerts for Blog searches by running the search and then clicking on the RSS link at the bottom of the page.
The eagle-eyed amongst you will have spotted that they have not yet removed the link inviting you to subscribe to the feed in Google Reader!
The procedure for a News RSS alert is more long winded and you need a Google account to set it up. First sign in to your account and go to Google News. In the upper right hand area of the screen there is a cog wheel. Click on the wheel and a set of personalization options should appear underneath it.
In addition to the standard categories that you can add or remove there is a box into which you can type in your own “topic”. Click on the + button to add it to the list and save the personalization. Your search topic should now appear in a list on the left hand side of the screen.
Click on your topic and at the bottom of the results page you should see an RSS icon which takes you to the feed for that search.
So the good news is that Google blog and news alerts are still available as RSS feeds. The bad news is that they are complicated to set up in news, and the links and text on the blog search results page have not been updated to reflect the discontinuation of Google Reader. This strongly suggests that RSS is very low on Google’s list of priorities so it really could be axed across the board.
If Google does decide to “retire” RSS and you want to carry on receiving RSS rather than email alerts there are several alternatives. So far, the best of the free services for me is the Netvibes Dashboards (http://www.netvibes.com/), which uses a number of tools including Google. Even if I ignore the Google results, Netvibes generally comes up a comprehensive and relevant set of alerts on my topic. Overall, I would rather not have the hassle of setting up my alerts afresh but Google has a habit of finishing off services with little or no warning. Now is the time to start looking for replacements.
I recently ran a version of my social media workshop for a group of health care librarians and information professionals in Liverpool. The group were LIHNN (Library and Information Health Network North West) and HCLU (Health Care Libraries Unit). (For further information about them see their web site at http://www.lihnn.nhs.uk/). I was forewarned that many of them have limited access to social media. Several confirmed that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs were all blocked in their workplace, yet most of them came from organisations who had set up YouTube channels, Twitter streams and Facebook pages! This raises an interesting question: if they receive a query about, for example, an event listed on their Facebook page or the content of a video on YouTube how are they supposed to respond if they are not able to check the content at the time of the enquiry? I find this mass blocking of social media web sites by organisations totally bizarre and ludicrous. The blocking is not even consistent. Slideshare may be blocked but other presentation sharing sites are often accessible. Add to this the antediluvian technology most of them are forced to use – in particular IE6 – and we end up with organisations that are out of touch with their users and communities, and have no idea what is being discussed or said about them.
But health care librarians and information professionals, and health care practitioners are an inventive lot. There is plenty of evidence of them having circumvented the barriers put in their way. The excellent Liz Azyan published a series of blog postings on social media and health care just before the workshop took place and they provide plenty of examples and support for those putting together a case for access to social media.
The postings are:
The Liverpool workshop participants were equally innovative. During the practical sessions they were able to test out social media for providing up to date information on their services and current awareness to their users. The winners were wikis for creating mini-websites and Netvibes for presenting RSS feeds and current awareness. The NHS Bolton Library wiki at http://boltonpct.pbworks.com/ and Shrewsbury and Telford Health Libraries Netvibes Team Knowledge Update at http://www.netvibes.com/sathlibraries are just two examples. There was also a great deal of interest in Twitter and blogs for at least monitoring “conversations” on health related topics and their own organisations, and word clouds for analysing the content of documents.
Facebook did not win any converts, nor did Second Life.
My PowerPoint presentation for the day is available in several places, and you should be able to view or download it from at least one of them:
Pageflakes may be up again but there are questions about its long term viability. Phil Bradley’s blog posting Pageflakes is dead, or is it? may encourage you to think of moving your start page elsewhere. I moved UKeiG’s Pageflakes ‘stuff’ to Netvibes after the advertisement fiasco (see UKeiG Pageflakes content has moved to Netvibes). As well as the lack of advance notice of adding adverts to pages – later withdrawn after many vociferous protests – there had been technical problems, slow page loading, and repeated down time. We felt that we could no longer trust Pageflakes nor could we depend on them to provide a reliable service.
At the very least I would recommend that you document your Pageflakes content. In the longer term, consider moving to Netvibes or a similar service. Phil Bradley has a list of start pages at http://philbradley.typepad.com/i_want_to/create_a_personalised_start_page/
Today and without advance warning Pageflakes installed advertisements on all of its members’ pages. There had been reports of ads appearing on new users’ pages but it was not until today that they were imposed on all existing users.
The ads are garish, often irrelevant to the content of the page, sometimes ‘inappropriate’ and always fixed. They appear in the top right hand corner of the page. As Phil Bradley has pointed out in the Pageflakes Forum, the positioning of the advert is excellent from their point of view but a disaster from ours. If it is an image it completely dominates the content. Until I had removed most of my content I saw bright orange, red and yellow ads being served up on my page.
I am sure that most of Pageflakes’ users appreciate that the company has to generate revenue but Pageflakes has not offered any alternative subscription options for those of us who are willing to pay for an ad free environment.
So what are the alternatives? I do not use Pageflakes other than to demonstrate it in workshops but I do maintain pages for other organisations. I have moved them all to Netvibes, which I recommend you investigate as an alternative. (For a very ordinary and straightforward example see the UKeiG Netvibes page)