“Blog Aggregators and Feeds: A More Efficient Way to Manage News and Legal Information”
A Reflection on the Electronic Issues Interest Group Meeting
FCIL-SIS 99th Annual Meeting, AALL, St. Louis, MO July 11, 2006
By Heidi Frostestad Kuehl, Pritzker Legal Research Center, Northwestern University School of Law
With the constant barrage of legal information, news, and other niche areas of research support for law professors and students, how is a law librarian to keep up? One very easy way to view news feeds, track blogs, and keep track of current developments in a single step each morning is through a news aggregator. Through an aggregator, you can set up feeds of interest for your research and those interests of the patrons that you serve. Blogs are here to stay and are now vital for current awareness with legal developments. Even more so, they are being praised for liberating the legal profession from its staid structure of writing about legal developments.1 The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has already created an RSS current awareness tool for its users; and, pretty soon, it is inevitable that more courts will start RSS feeds (“Really Simple Syndication) for opinions and arguments to use aggregators.2 Even the American Society of International Law has created RSS/XML feeds for its publications, which enables foreign and international law librarians to read about current developments in their preferred aggregator.3
I. How to Pick an Aggregator and Aggregation Defined…
Picking an aggregator can be as easy as choosing a related service to your blog, such as Bloglines, or expanding your phone or e-mail service, such as Google Mobile.4 However, if you are not familiar with RSS feeds and the available services, the array of choices and available blogs for feeds might be daunting. To get started, consult a directory and description of available aggregators, such as newsonfeeds.com (http://www.newsonfeeds.com/faq/aggregators). Aggregators like Newsgator, FeedDemon, Feedreader, and Bloglines are some of the most-often used web-based aggregators in the nation; however, as you can see from the above website and descriptions, there are many options for desktop news aggregators. After evaluating the features of each aggregator, you may find that one has more desirable elements than others, such as the folder style aggregation of Bloglines which helps label each of the feeds. Most feeds will automatically give you a short summary of the postings to blogs or the news feature so that you can easily decide whether to click on it and read the whole post or article. More importantly, though, you might be wondering: ”What does an aggregator actually do?” An aggregator manages feeds and new postings to blogs that you set up as a member to the service, which is usually free, by aggregating those feeds in a single online location. When you initially set up an account, for example, the service will ask you to initially set up your feeds for news and blogs.5 New feeds will appear as soon as they are posted to a news service or blog or, alternatively, each time you log into the aggregator service.
II. Bloglines: An Example for Setting up Feeds in an Aggregator…
Signing up for Bloglines, which is one of my favorite aggregators, is an easy three-step process after researching blogs and news services that you would like to subscribe to for current events and your research.6 First, Bloglines will ask for basic information after you click on “Subscribe” from the homepage (http://www.bloglines.com/). This information includes your e-mail address, which will also serve as your login for future use, and your time zone, language, and choosing a password. Next, Bloglines will ask you to subscribe to your feeds by entering the URLs of the RSS/XML feeds on websites or blogs that you have researched. By going to a website, you can usually easily see whether it has an RSS or XML icon on the frontpage : . For example, on the ASIL website (http://www.asil.org), you can prominently see the icon on the homepage:
Then, once you are at the website that you would like a new feed from, you can click on the RSS icon and the URL will appear for the feed. For example, for ASIL Insights, the RSS feed, which you would then paste into Bloglines, would be: http://www.asil.org/insights/insightrss.rss . If you would like feeds from a blog, such as the Foreign Collection Development Blog, you would go to the blog website (http://foreignlawcollections.blogspot.com/), click on the RSS icon, and copy the URL for the feed to paste into Bloglines: http://foreignlawcollections.blogspot.com/atom.xml. Once you have gathered all of your URLs for the feeds, you will input them into Bloglines at the second screen prompt during the registration process:
In the next screen of Bloglines, it will ask you to customize your feed preferences. If you prefer a new folder for each feed to keep your feeds organized, then you would select folders at the top level. When you gather more feeds, though, you might wish to edit this preference into folders of types of blogs, e.g., law blogs, librarian blogs, or professor blogs. Bloglines also asks you whether you would like to have summaries of the the blog or news text in your feed or the full posting (summaries are preferable if you plan to set up many feeds or if the blog/news service is very active). After deciding whether you would like the mobile feeds options and public access to your feeds, then you click on “Subscribe” to finish the selection process:
After clicking on “Subscribe” at the bottom of the screen, your process is complete and the feed will be added as a folder in your Bloglines entry screen. When you have new feeds in the morning, they appear as a number of messages or feeds in Bloglines. You also can create several accounts for different purposes, such as collection development, general research, or foreign and international legal research with multiple e-mail address logins (e.g. Gmail, work, or Yahoo accounts). Here is an example of feeds from my general research account, and you can easily add new feeds at any time in the top left-hand corner of Bloglines:
Finally, to access new feeds from the blogs or news services that you have collected, you click on the link for the title of the feed. For example, when I click on “International Judicial Monitor,” I see the following summaries:
If one of the postings looks interesting or relevant for my research needs or the needs of the faculty that I support, then I would click on the full article, newsletter, or blog posting.
III. Conclusion: Happy Aggregating and Information Management!
In a few easy steps, you can tame the wealth of information and minimize the stress of searching on multiple websites for information through an aggregation of news and legal blogs. It is the first thing that I check each morning to stay current with my research and to ensure that I am serving our patrons with current information and the latest legal trends. In addition, it is a great way to find links to recent official documents, such as court decisions, legislation, treaties, or regulations. It is well worth the investment of a day or so to figure out the process for the ready access to information that it provides. Good luck with your aggregating and more efficient information management!
1. Douglas A. Berman, Blogs are liberating the profession from dull writing, NATIONAL LAW JOURNAL (Sept. 11, 2006), available athttp://www.law.com/jsp/nlj/PubArticlePrinterFriendlyNLJ.jsp?id=1157629869043 (last visited 9/15/2006). See also Maria Kantzavelos, Law-Related Blogging Starting to See a Coming of Age, CHICAGO LAWYER (Aug. 1, 2006), available at http://www.law.northwestern.edu/depts/communicate/newspages/article_full.cfm?eventid=2769 (last visited 9/14/2006) and Ian Best, A Collection of Law Review Articles Citing Legal Blogs, available at http://3lepiphany.typepad.com/3l_epiphany/2006/04/lawrevsciteblog.html (last visited 9/5/06).
2. Gary Price, All Rise! RSS is Now in Session, available at http://www.librarystuff.net/2006/08/all-rise-rss-is-now-in-session.html (last visited 9/15/2006).
3. ASIL RSS feeds and Resources, available athttp://www.asil.org/rss/index.html (last visited 9/15/2006).
4. See Google Weblog tools, available at http://directory.google.com/Top/Computers/Internet/On_the_Web/Weblogs/Tools/ and Google Mobile Beta Services, available at http://www.google.co.uk/mobile/personalized/promo.html (last visited 9/15/06).
5. For a definition of a news aggregator, see, e.g., Metacentric: What is a News Aggregator?, available at http://www.metacentric.net/FAQ?glossary=news%20aggregator (last visited 9/15/06).
6. For a complete list of legal blogs and legal blogs by subject (including International Law), see http://www.blawg.org/modules.php?name=Web_Links&1_op=viewlink&cid=43 (last visited 9/13/06).