The Challenge of RSS Evangelism

I love being an RSS evangelist. I tell everyone I know why RSS feeds are so cool. They think I’m a geek. I don’t care, they’ll thank me for it later.

(Read my RSS feed backgrounder.)

But I’ll admit it… I get so frustrated trying to explain to people why I think RSS feeds are so cool and important – because most people don’t know what the heck they are. It’s kind of like explaining the Web in 1992, I guess. Unless you’re into weblogs, chances are you probably haven’t heard of RSS.

I’m forever trying to bridge this knowledge gap, but that’s hard when RSS feeds are still so clunky to learn to use compared to the Web and e-mail.
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The ear catches what the eye misses

One of the not-so-fun parts about writing is agonizing over difficult sentences, paragraphs, passages, or transitions. You type and type, retype and retype, stare at the screen, delete, cut-and-paste – but your words still feel klunky or unclear.

Here’s one way to get past this obstacle and quickly break through to the best way to say what you want to say: Read your work aloud to yourself.
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Signs and Sense

I’m just back from a few days of vacation, following the SEJ conference. Had an interesting experience on the way home, driving solo across Colorado. I stopped at a Starbucks in Frisco, CO, and quickly realized that the guy behind the counter was deaf. Fortunately, a year or so ago, I’d attended an American Sign Language (ASL) class taught by my friend Steve DiCesare (a talented musician and ASL instructor).

It turned out that Steve’s most important point about ASL is true: It’s generally less important that you know the precise sign, and more important that you communicate visibly with your whole body and face. Here’s what I mean:
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Live from Loyola

At this moment, I’m in the computer lab of the Monroe Library at Loyola University. This is a very cool library – ethernet ports all over the place, artwork, it’s fabulous, nice lighting, it’s perfect.

I’m here to deliver a presentation on RSS feeds and digital voice recorders as part of the computer workshop (still at the conference of the Society of Environmental Journalists) I’m listening to a couple of presentations first, and here are the highlights….
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Hotel Web Sites: What’s the Deal with Net Access?

Next week, I’ll be traveling to New Orleans for the annual conference of the Society of Environmental Journalists, which this year will be held at the Astor Crowne Plaza – apparently a very fine hotel in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

It’s been my unfortunate experience that Internet access at hotels is often flaky, complex, or unexpectedly costly. I never seem to know quite what the situation will be until I get there.

Net access has become a necessity for many kinds of travelers. It’s no longer a nicety, but a core service that could easily make or break someone’s decision to stay at a given hotel. So here’s what I wish: That hotels would routinely list on their Web sites, in an easy-to-find place, exactly what the deal is with Net access from their guest rooms, and how much it really costs.
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Megachurches: Ugly as Sin? What the Sites Don’t Show…

If there’s not already one somewhere within 100 miles of you, there probably will be soon – “megachurches” are the latest phenomenon in popular Christianity.

I’ve looked at a lot of megachurch Web sites recently, like Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago (one of the nation’s largest). What I find most intriguing is what seems to be almost uniformly missing from these Web sites – photos of the megachurches!

The absence of photos is conspicuous because these are huge, huge, HUGE facilities. You’d think those pastors would be proud to show them off!
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Answering the really big questions online

Recently, a chance enounter with a scientist on a Colorado mountaintop, plus the publication of a new book by one of my favorite authors (Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything), has rekindled my interest in cosmology – the scientific quest to understand the origin, evolution, and ultimate fate of the entire universe.

Big stuff. Fascinating stuff. Complicated stuff. Concepts that bear little or no relation to the world we experience with our senses. Notoriously hard to communicate about – especially if you’re trying to explain it to non-scientists.

I love a thorny content problem, and even more I love an elegant solution. If you want to check out a well-done site concerning cosmology, string theory, and other core puzzles of the universe, check out The Official String Theory Web Site — an independent project by physicist Patricia Schwarz.

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CONTEST: RSS Needs a Catchier Name!

RSS is a great way to publish and follow news online – but it’s still pretty geeky. Unfortunately, that geekiness makes it harder for most people to get interested enough in RSS to want to try it.

I’ve decided to do something about that. I’m offering a contest so that CONTENTIOUS readers can pick a catchier, less geeky name that will help bring RSS to a mass audience.

UPDATE DEC. 8, 2003: I’ve created a contest page that includes all the latest info on this contest, including the list of entries.

HOW TO ENTER: Send me your suggestions for a catchy new name for RSS. You can suggest up to three names.
E-mail your entries to: RSSname@contentious.com

RULES:

  • You must include your full name and e-mail address.
  • Your entries must be 1-3 words long each.
  • Maximum of 3 entries per person.
  • No acronyms – that’s the plague we’re trying to combat here, after all!

More about this contest…
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