This is the first in a series of discussions about personal knowledge management (PKM) as it relates to the typical professional. While in this case my focus will be on blogs and their related RSS feeds, subsequent posts will be devoted to wikis, search engines, and other such tools.
To keep this to a manageable length I am going to assume a certain amount of familiarity with the concept of blogs, RSS feeds, and feed readers. For those who require a foundation tutorial about these topics, I recommend reading this summary put together by ProBlogger. If you’re still seeking further background, do a Google search to help fill in the blanks. What I am seeking to set forth here is what has become my own approach to blog subscriptions.
Use of RSS-to-e-Mail Method of Blog Subscriptions
When I first began reading blogs many years ago I quickly became unsatisfied with most of the available feed readers because there was no means of capturing and archiving the information. My reasoning was that I may only have the time to read blogs occasionally – and at sporadic intervals. That didn’t mesh well with the format of most readers, in which only the most recent blog posts were displayed. One would have to go to the individual blog site and scroll through the chronological entries in order to “catch up” on what had been written previously. So I began to hunt for an alternative means by which to collect and organize blog postings.
Where my search led was to RSS-to-e-mail tools by which I subscribe to the blog’s feed and have it sent to my e-mail inbox. There are several such web tools out there. The one I favor is FeedMyInbox.com which has a very simple user interface for subscribing to RSS feeds, yet provides a nicely formatted e-mail (sent as a digest of posts, up to once daily) for readability. I specifically avoid those tools in which have you establish a user account because the result is usually that they create a composite e-mail composed of the feeds of many separate blogs. In order to establish the proper archiving system, I wanted a daily e-mail message with the posts from each individual blog.
A secondary factor with regard to a RSS-to-e-mail tool is whether it truncates blog posts or provides full text instead. FeedMyInbox provides full text, however this is not a foolproof solution. Some blogs are setup to only publish summary paragraphs in their RSS feeds. While this still enables the user to be able to click a hyperlink at a later date to access the full post, sometimes there can be problems associated with this method. If the blog happened to cease publication or was relocated and the posts were not archived for continued access, you lose access to that entire library of blog entries.
I generally avoid the option that most blogs offer for having their posts delivered as an e-mail newsletter. The reason I shy away from this is that the formatting of those e-mail compilations they send is not standardized and, more often than not, the full text of posts is not included. FeedMyInbox, by comparison, provides a much cleaner and more dependable end-product for scanning content and readily picking out the things I might be interested in.
Setting Up Individual e-Mail Accounts for Archiving
The key to my method of establishing a blog library is the e-mail management system by which the entries are archived. In a previous post here, I explained my preference for Google gmail – largely due to the filtering functions and the important advantage of using Gmail Manager as an option within Mozilla Firefox web browsers. Once combined with a domain account using Google Sites, this becomes a relatively robust solution. My custom domain under Google Sites allows me to create up to 200 e-mail accounts. Due to the fact that I subscribe to hundreds of RSS feeds, I have actually gotten to the point where I am using 35 separate e-mail accounts. While that may be excessive, remember that I treat each of these accounts as a separate section of my so-called “blog library.”
In my blog library I have sections (e-mail accounts) set up for such generic topics as:
- General News Sources (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Financial News Sources (email@example.com)
- Business News Sources (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Sports News Sources (email@example.com)
In a more specific context, I have sections (e-mail accounts) set up for such various topics as:
- Business Law Blogs (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Employment Law Blogs (email@example.com)
- Law Practice Management Blogs (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Organizational Management Blogs (email@example.com)
When employing this type of system the trick is figuring out what categories might be needed – so that you don’t end up with too many or too few blogs/RSS feeds for each section of your library (to avoid an unnecessary number of e-mail accounts). Admittedly, you may peruse some of these topic areas very rarely, but it is nevertheless reassuring to know the information is there if you need or want to delve into a particular area in detail. Personally speaking, whenever I discover an interesting blog I have the tendency to add it to my collection on the (albeit slim) chance it may come in handy in the future.
Obviously one is not going to labor over setting up such a system overnight. This is the sort of thing that accumulates over the course of months and years as, like a book collection, you discover additional blogs and news sources to add to your library. When you set up your news feed to go to the individual e-mail address for that topic area, you will eventually go back to the e-mail account and establish a folder for that specific blog and then setup a filter to automatically send posts from the given RSS feed to the specified folder (usually by the blog title which appears in the subject line of the FeedMyInbox e-mail messages).
If you are seeking to establish a specific section of your library and want to discover resources for use in that regard, there are several tools from which to choose. There are blog search engines (such as Technorati), blog directories (such as Alltop), and topical RSS feed aggregators (such as Feedzilla). Perhaps in the future I will dedicate some time to exploring and explaining these alternatives in greater detail.
Is it really worth the effort?
You have probably guessed by now that I tend to be a pack rat and that, before the advent of the internet, I had the tendency to accumulate voluminous collections of books and magazines. The difference now with my collection of RSS feeds/blogs is that:
- They cost nothing to collect (other than a relatively small amount of time expenditure), and
- They take up no physical space like those heavy stacks of books and magazines did.
That said, I have my own reservations about the overall effectiveness of this library system as a legitimate knowledge management tool. On the one hand, if I’m going to bother subscribing to any RSS feeds at all, I firmly believe this is the way to go (after having tried other methods and found them lacking). However, I have a sneaking suspicion that “Web 3.0” (whenever it evolves) might include enough highly evolved search engines the likes of Google Alerts that my current system will prove to be archaic and entirely unnecessary. Time will tell…
At the very least, my so-called “blog library” does enable me to peruse various subject areas and a vast array of resources upon the click or two of a mouse. Thereby replicating the feeling I had when exploring the aisles between tall shelves of books during my frequent visits to the public library as a kid. Back then I loved taking in the depth and breadth of the topics covered under the Dewey Decimal System and I get the same sort of feeling all over again these days when I comb through my constantly growing collection of blogs and news feeds. There is a whole lot of researching, thinking and writing going on out there and it has always been exciting to me to feel as though it’s all readily accessible – whether that was back then at the public library or, in present times, in the comfort of my own home on my PC. It is a world of wonderment indeed!
Jeff Klenner – an attorney and former professor of Organizational Management – works with small businesses and startup enterprises in a consultative capacity for Access Strategic Knowledge (ASK) Consultants LLC in Detroit, Michigan.