While many cities have embraced the web as a way to communicate with their citizens, many are still trying to figure out the best way to leverage the vast number of tools and programs available to them. Most have websites up, but other technologies such as RSS, Twitter, and Blogs, are just now starting to come into play at the local government level. Since no one channel is usually good enough for every “listener” in the audience, a multi-pronged approach is the best way to effectively get information out into the world. Here, we’ll focus on one of the easiest methods of disseminating information – RSS.
At its heart, RSS (Really Simple Syndication) gives your website visitors the power to subscribe to the information that you put online. As you add new information to your site, users who have subscribed will automatically receive that information in much the same way that they receive email. This saves citizens time because they don’t have to periodically return to your site to check for new content. Not only does this help get information out quickly, it broadens the number of users that actually see it.
In a typical example, a user would come to your website’s news section and click on the RSS feed icon on the page or in their browser. Once the feed is saved, they’ll be able to pull into their RSS feed reader, like those provided in Outlook or by Google. It is very much a “pull” philosophy instead of the traditional “push”.
So where does RSS fit in amongst all of the other options? One disadvantage in RSS is that the feeds are anonymous so you will not be able to see who has subscribed to any given feed. This means that RSS generally works best if you don’t need to know who the identity of the subscriber. The advantage here is that by publishing once, you get two separate channels: The traditional site visitor and the visitor who would like to be kept instantly informed through RSS. With major web browsers supporting RSS, you’d be surprised at how many users take advantage of the technology.
One of our long-time customers, the City of Tybee Island,Ga, has embraced RSS as an additional means of communicating with their citizens. Realizing that some visitors may not be as comfortable with RSS as others, the City thoughtfully provided a very concise introduction to RSS on their site. In addition to a clear description of the usage and benefits of the technology, there is also a link to an entertaining but informative YouTube video on RSS.
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