It seems like every day, there’s another way to publish information on the net. There are traditional websites, RSS feeds, Twitter, blogs, social networks, SMS text messages and of course email. Union members are using all of these to get their news and information. And union communicators may be finding it increasingly difficult to navigate their way through the complex choices involved.
In some cases we may even find ourselves creating content for specific platforms such as blogs, or online campaigns, or even Twitter feeds. And then we need to make sure that the same content goes out, more or less, through the different media. There could be a lot of duplication of effort here.
There’s got to be a better way – and there is. We need to find ways to make our content platform-independent. In an ideal world, when we post an entry to a blog, it can also appear automatically as a tweet (on Twitter), as an item in an RSS newswire, perhaps even as a text message. The point is to separate content from delivery of content. And there are already some solutions at hand.
Most decent content management systems, including excellent free ones like Drupal and WordPress, contain built-in generators of RSS feeds. And RSS feeds are, increasingly, the Esperanto of the Internet. They can be read by a wide range of programs.
For example, there is a service called TwitterFeed. It allows you to automatically send to Twitter (and several other micro-blogging services) your website’s RSS feed. You set it up once, and forget about it. Updates are automatic.
You can see how this works in practice by visiting LabourStart’s Twitter page (http://twitter.com/labourstart). This feed is updated throughout the day, drawing information from the top global news stories on the LabourStart website, from the list of active campaigns, and from the new online bookstore LabourStart is hosting. As new news stories appear on LabourStart, or new campaigns are launched or titles selected as “book of the week” the RSS feeds are used to generate tweets. Those RSS feeds are themselves automatically created by our software.
In this way, the creation of a blog entry or a new online campaign is automatically translated into something suitable for cellphones and other small devices.
These are simple, quick and free services and allow our content to reach a wider audience.
I’ve just visited the website of one of Britain’s very largest unions to see how hard it would be for them to have an integrated system as I’ve described here. This is a well-designed site full of campaigns. But there’s no RSS feed being generated for those campaigns, and therefore no automated way to create tweets or SMS messages.
The website of another very large British union has an RSS feed of its news, but no one has bothered to check it for validity, and it’s broken. As a result, branch sites cannot include updated national news automatically. And services like TwitterFeed will almost certainly not work.
With union members increasingly relying on small devices such as iPhones and Blackberries, it’s more important than ever that we separate content from delivery, and make our news and information accessible to all.