RRS or Really Simple Syndication is a great way for government websites to get important news, events and decision to busy web users. However, if you operate a government website, you'll still have to convince management of its benefits. We provide a sample business case that was used at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission aka FERC(http://www.ferc.gov/) to get you started.
My employer, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, required me to develop a business case on RSS before I could implement it on the FERC Internet website (http://www.ferc.gov/). I am sharing this with you so you'll be able to convince your agency of the merits.Download the sample business case
We used online surveys to gather information on whether our web users would be even interested in this. Over 96 percent of them were even though only about 30 percent were using RSS news readers.
What is means to syndicate content
When a website syndicates content, it is essentially publishing its content to other computers. You can think of syndication like a radio broadcast telling other computers "we have new content, come and get it!"
Most major news websites syndicate their content and have RSS news feeds (MSNBC, CNN, NY Times, Washington Post and Fox News). You'll usually find a variety of RSS news feeds on these sites on various subjects like World News, Entertainment, Sports, etc. explaining the technology and how to use it. FERC's explanation of What is RSS at FERC is no different. It even offers some free services like My Yahoo!, My MSN and Newsgator to get web users started.
Website managers who want to attract users to their websites would be wise to consider syndicating content. That's because when someone subscribes to your news feef and receive your content, they will click on a link that takes them back to your website.
Should you syndicate at all?
If FERC was still a little known federal agency, the answer would be "absolutely not." However, FERC deals with Enron, the California Energy Crisis of 2000, and is the lead agency for siting liquefied natural gas terminals (LNG)and interstate natural gas pipelines. It also deals with over 1,660 hydropower dams. Hardly a week or day passes when FERC's decisions and policies are not being covered by the press, industry and citizens. Beside this, FERC's goal is to make their website a Strategic Public Relations tool. RSS has a role in the latter.
Every government agency or organization will have to decide what to syndicate. There is no "one size fits all" solution. Our advice is to syndicate the most important information. You can easily overwhelm most users by doing too much. FERC puts out about 1,200 documents each month, however we syndicate only 35 documents a month. That's a little less than 3 percent. These documents are press releases, associated decisions, and events.
Successful implememtation of RSS is not difficult technologically. The real work is to educate users and organizations about it. Most federal agencies work with relevant stakeholders (dozens of other organizations and agencies) to accomplish their work. To really be of service to your web users, you'll also have to convince these relevant stakeholder organizations to implement RSS news feeds and to deal with the question of what to syndicate. More on that in a week or two.
The Basics and Good RSS Articles
Here's some basic information about RSS. There are two main versions of the RSS format in use today; RSS 0.9x and RSS 1.0. Each version is being actively used and developed and has its benefits and drawbacks.
RSS 0.9x is known for its simplicity, while RSS 1.0 is more extensible and fully specified. Both formats are XML-based and have the same basic structure. Your IT Conractors should be able to assit you in determining what version to use.
Use these articles to get started:
-RSS described in plain English http://www.commoncraft.com/archives/000528.html
-RSS tutorial for Content Publishers and Web masters http://www.mnot.net/rss/tutorial/#What
-An introduction to RSS news feeds- (more technical and great resources) Using open formats for content syndication http://www-106.ibm.com/developerworks/library/w-rss.html
-All about RSS (Really Simple Syndication) (extensive articles) http://radio.userland.com/allAboutRSS
Most content management systems do have software that will generate RSS feeds automatically. FERC didn't have a CMS system for ferc.gov, so we are used Feed For All (http;//www.feedforall.com/) to generate the code for our news feed.
Real Life Government Examples
National Weather Service http://www.nws.noaa.gov/alerts/
U.S. Dept. of Education http://www.ed.gov/news/newsletters/rssnewsfeed.html
U.S. Dept. of Defense http://www.dod.gov/news/rss/
U.S.G.S. Earthquakes Hazard Program http://earthquake.usgs.gov/recenteqsww/rss.html
National Weather Service http://weather.gov/alerts/
U.S. State Dept. http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2004/37506.htm
Ohio Public Utilities Commission http://www.puco.ohio.gov/PUCO/Consumer/information.cfm?doc_id=991
Government of Canada (particularly good at showing how government is promoting RSS) http://www.news.gc.ca/cfmx/view/en/index.jsp?categoryid=12&category=Choose+Your+News