RSS Really Simple Stupid

OK confession time… I have only just ‘got’ RSS feeds – please don’t tell my employers… an admission like that with a job title like mine is tantamount to a sack-able offence! Let me unpack this a bit more… Of course I knew what RSS feeds were, price I remember Debra Hiom – from SOSIG (now part of the intute gateway of subject resources) explaining to me years ago when I worked at ILRT how they were using RSS feeds on the site. But my understanding of it then was at an abstract level, viagra as a concept. A year or so ago I painstakingly set up a personalised Google page and Google Reader and subscribed to various sites but it wasn’t very satisfactory and half the time the pages didn’t load – my fault probably – but after a while I stopped bothering. It just wasn’t worth the time and effort and I couldn’t see the point. Over the summer I started using a MacBook Pro and found that the way in which the browser Safari enables you to set up bookmarks and RSS feeds was so, viagra so easy that using them has now become embedded in my daily practice. So in a sense I have gone through three levels of learning it seems to me:

  • 1. Conceptual – where I understood the concept of RSS feeds but couldn’t/didn’t use them,
  • 2. Applied – where I could use RSS feeds but it didn’t transform me/change my practice,
  • 3. Transformative – where the use of RSS feeds has actually changed the way I do things.
  • Maybe there is a No. 4 too – now that I really do ‘get it’, I can’t for the life of me understand why I ever had a problem with them and frankly am feeling a little sheepish ;-) But there is another point I want to make. Part of the above is about me and the way I learn. I get impatient with new technology and can’t be bothered to take the time to find out how to use it – that is until I get the motivation to use it, then I become a real geek, get under the bonnet and get my hands well and truly dirty! I just couldn’t see the point with RSS feeds, until recently. So my motivation made a difference, but the intuitive nature of the Safari interface made a big difference too. John Naughton makes a similar point about the ‘iPod moment’, arguing that it’s not the iPod in isolation:

    It’s slightly misleading because it implies that the appearance of a gizmo is the crucial event. Not so. The genius of the iPod was that it was paired from the outset with iTunes software — and that that software had a beautiful, intuitive interface.

    Now I don’t want to open a whole can of worms here but dare I say it the word ‘affordances’ springs to mind? I know there is lots and lots of debate on the use of this in our area (see for example the debate Martin Dyke and I had with Tom Boyle and John Cook on the paper Martin and I wrote putting forward a taxomony of technology affordances and also the review by McGrenere and Ho). In our paper we cited Gibson’s original use of the term as cited by Salomon

    “Affordance” refers to the perceived and actual properties of a thing, primarily those functional properties that determine just how the thing could possibly be used. (Salomon, 1993, pg 51)

    Gibson’s original definition was

    The affordances of an environment are what it offers the animal, what it provides or furnishes, either for good or ill. … I mean by it something that refers to both the environment and the animal in a way that no existing term does. It implies the complementarity of the animal and the environment. (Gibson, 1986: 127)

    So my reflection on my ‘nirvana moment’ with RSS exemplifies this – i.e. it was a combination of me and my style of learning, the context/time (and associated trigger in terms of motivation/need), the core functionality of the technology (what it could do, but also what it could do in relation to my needs at a particular point in time) AND an intuitive interface.


  • Conole, G. and Dyke, M., (2004), ‘What are the inherent affordances of Information and Communication Technologies?’, ALT-J, 12.2, 113-124
  • Gibson, J.J. (1986), The ecological approach to visual perception, London: Lawrence Erlbaun Associates
  • Salomon, G. (ed) (1993), ‘Distributed cognitions – psychological and educational considerations’, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  • 2 Responses to “RSS Really Simple Stupid”

    1. mrsdurff Says:

      Maybe the fourth level is evangelistic? I use RSS to grade student work…

    2. Gráinne Says:

      Yes funny you should say that - I kind of was thinking the same thing… ‘evangelistic’/'teacher’… Once a teacher always a teacher - one of my first reactions when i learn or understand something is wanting to share it with others ;-) Interesting idea re: using RSS to grade work…

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