A new and important role is emerging on the Web, Web summary author, also known as newsmaster, information DJ, current awareness maven, or RSS channel provider. As good as the Web is most of us need some help in keeping up with topics that are important to us. The Web summary author helps us by working the information river and panning out the gold.
The production of Web summaries has taken various forms up to now. The most venerable is the Web directory, a collection of links and descriptions arranged in a topic hierarchy. For example, see the Google directory (http://www.google.com/dirhp). This is maintained as a part of the Open Directory Project. Many volunteers keep it up to date.
Survey articles, email newsletters, news sites, and Web logs have all been used as a means to communicate periodic summaries of what is new on the Web in different areas. More recently, RSS feeds have become a great way to distribute summaries. They have the advantage that the consumer of the summary can select which feeds to subscribe to and follow many different feeds using an RSS reader. If a feed becomes less useful or crammed with marketing messages, the consumer can simply stop using that feed and switch to another one. This can be very attractive to people who have 80% or more of their email inbox full of spam.
This sounds good from the consumer point of view, but what is in it for the Web summary author? There are many reasons why people will spend the time to create these summaries. One big one is simple enthusiasm. Many Web summary authors do it because the topic is their particular passion. Or they might be providing professional services and providing summaries builds their credibility and keeps them in their client's awareness. It might be to enhance a primary service they provide. For example, librarians can provide summaries to help their patrons find what they need. Project managers might use the same approach for making it easier for project members to know where the current information is.
RSS is starting to become a hot topic among Internet marketers. (See http://www.marketingstudies.net/blogs/rss/ for more on RSS marketing.) There is a major backlash against email marketing because of the abuses of spammers. Search engine algorithms are becoming more sophisticated so attempts to manipulate search engine ranking through "tricks" is becoming more difficult. More subtle forms of marketing, such as viral marketing, are coming to the forefront. But it ultimately comes down to providing something useful to consumers for free that will either attract them to your Web site or set the context for your marketing message. Providing useful Web summaries can be ideal for this. Web summary authors could provide feeds to Internet marketers for a fee.
Consumer subscription for a particular feed seems fairly unlikely except for certain very specialized or highly valuable information. Subscription to a service that provides many feeds could work, but it would be more likely that subscribers to this service would be marketers or news sites. Web summary authors could possibly provide content to those services for a fee.
So what tools would be useful for the Web summary author? The general category is information aggregators. An information aggregator is a software tool that allows you to produce and display summary views of a wide variety of information in a way that makes it easier to see what is important and where you want to spend your time. This is particularly important for Web summary authors to help them in their research for new content, but it can also be important in saving them time in producing the actual product such as an RSS XML file. (See http://www.sugarloafsw.com/ia/ia.html for more on the general topic of information aggregators.)
The work flow for a Web summary author would be something like this. They are always on the lookout for new information in their area of interest. Their information aggregator should allow them to read RSS feeds in a useful format, have predefined searches that run and show them the new results, and allow them to organize HTML fragments such as search forms onto a page for easy reference.
As they find new content, they need to be able to capture and organize the information into a personal knowledge base or Web directory. Then they need to be able to save the resulting update to their summary as an RSS feed, HTML file, or word processing document so they can deliver it in the best form to their consumers.
Web summary authoring can be out on the cool edge of emerging Web based culture, a part of a new and subtle form of marketing, or a great service to all us poor souls trying to deal with information overload. It is a role that is needed and hopefully will find an economic basis that works for the Web summary author. Tools such as information aggregators will be there to help in the production and use of Web summaries.
About the author:
Ron Tower is the President of Sugarloaf Software and is the developer of Personal Watchkeeper, an information aggregator supporting a variety of ways to summarize the Web.
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