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June 20, 2014

Need to Teach Plumbing to Young Users

Breakfast Tapping
Photo of @miarosegold at breakfast.

WHILE WATCHING YOUNG PEOPLE tap their way around online content, I often flash back to the way internet plumbing works. Behind many clever apps sits standards-compliant infrastructure that provides the plumbing for content, sophisticated algorithms and notifications.

I am dabbling at the simple side of the plumbing with RSS and OPML. While testing several news readers, I am manually creating dozens of subscriptions from websites I read. As I do this, I am dismayed to see very useful content with no visible way of accessing an RSS feed. In fact, many of the entrants in the 2014 Blog Awards Ireland fail to display an easy way to subscribe to their well-written content by using a newsreader.

As the next semester approaches, I am nominating a selection of newsfeeds for students enrolled in various modules that I teach. I want the students to consider those newsfeeds as fonts of knowledge related to final exam questions. While I will itemise each of these feeds in notes to accompany practical teaching sessions, I think it is more useful to offer these newsfeeds as OPML files. I expect students to be able to articulate the distinction between RSS and OPML while they write about the public OPML collections they discover sprinkled around the web.

Being able to offer, leverage and share newsfeeds is more sophisticated than knowing which apps provide you with the best view of your working world. Because if you know how to follow knowledge as it percolates at its source, you have a better perspective on how the sharing economy is plumbed. It begins with RSS and OPML.

[Bernie Goldbach is the senior creative multimedia lecturer in the Limerick School of Art & Design.]

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