Friday, September 23, 2005

Using RSS for distributing non audio/video course content

Before I forget – A realvideo stream of President White’s Installation is available here.
While there are some touching parts in the rest of the ceremony, if you only want to hear President White’s address, it starts at about 1:31:30.


I’ve got a little demo all of you can play with. To do so you need a podcatcher that supports general file types, not just media files. I believe that iTunes, for example, only supports media files so it can’t be used for this purpose. I’ve gotten it to work with JPodder. There are a bunch of clients out there. I’m not really sure how to tell which support only music or video formats and which support more general formats. But I do know this requires the latter capability to work.

The rest is remarkably simple. So before getting to the description, let me say this works like a charm for content that the distributor doesn’t mind being public (not behind a wall of password protection). It’s for that type of content where the benefit lies. For content where the distributor wants to restrict access for copyright, privacy, or other reasons, this method is not useful.

The RSS feed provides the url to be supplied to the podcatcher so it knows what to subscribe to. That RSS feed is generated from the Atom feed of this blog, though I’m under the impression one can use the url for the blog itself, but I haven’t tried that yet. In the most recent two entries of the blog, I put in links in the link field and those were to files in the public part of my Netfiles account (Netfiles is the campus branding for the Xythos document management software).

The upshot is I manage my public documents any way I want to in Netfiles, when I want to make one available to my subscribers, I make a blog post with a link to the file. Their podcatchet picks up the file the next time it updates from the RSS feed and they can view the file by going to the folder on their own computer where the podcatcher puts the content. This distribution method can be used for teaching, for a research group to share content, really for any social unit that wants to share content online. It has the distinct advantage over email that the files are readily found in the particular folder for the group and there is an online index of sorts provided by the blog.

We need more experimentation with this. Right now I consider it not ready for prime time and what I don’t have now is a good sense of how hard the subscription stuff is from the typical user’s point of view. However, to the extent that the user has a computer with a broadband connection so the updating can happen in the background or while the user is away from the computer, that seems like a win for the users.

If you do try it out, I’d like to know what you think.

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