Staying up-to-date the easy way

October 21, 2009 at 7:27 pm Leave a comment

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If developments in your field are rapid or if you need to keep an eye on several  areas at once, then keeping up-to-date may be a challenge. This blog posting reviews a range of free and easy-to-use tools to make keeping abreast of changes simpler.

Most of the tools reviewed on this post make use of RSS (really simple syndication)  or Atom technology that can be used to ensure you receive notification every time fresh information is added to a website (commonly called a news feed).

Before you begin
Before you begin signing up to your RSS feeds, you may wish to consider where you receive the news feed. If you don’t want your email inbox filling up with journal current contents information, you can choose to receive the information delivered to another location, including: a news feed aggregator, podcast aggregator, Twitter, Skype or a designated, personalised ‘home’ (or other) webpage (sometimes called a news aggregation website).

Methods table

For people who are attracted by the idea of managing (modifying, adding or deleting) news feeds from one central point, aggregator technology is preferable. Choosing an aggregator will allow you to instantaneously download and manage, in one location, a range of media, including news feeds, current contents of journals, regular PubMed searches, and new blog or Twitter postings from various sources.

News feed aggregators
In general most news feed aggregators allow you to download of fresh information in mixed media from various sources in one location (see diagram).

Example of newsfeed aggregator

A key advantage of news feed aggregators (or feed readers) is that you can filter the news feeds using key words, which is crucial to exclude extraneous information. Using the Vienna news feed aggregator (just one of many types of these aggregators), embedded videos can be played within the aggregator (there is no need to switch to your internet browser to view the webpage). An example of a newsaggregator window is shown below. Clicking on the article headlines (unread headlines are in bold) will give you further information (see box below the list of headlines).

Newsaggregator page

The reader can then choose to visit the webpage of the article for further information.

Podcast aggregators
People on the move may like to receive updates by Podcast (several journals provide good Podcast summaries of current articles, as well as interviews with authors and researchers providing expert interpretation of the studies). Podcast afficionados may therefore like to use a Podcast aggregator or receiver (in tandem with itunes) to collect and manage all their Podcast subscriptions from a central location.

News aggregation websites
Another method of staying up-to-date is to create a personalised ‘home’ (or other) webpage in which you download all your journal content feeds, news sources, podcasts and other methods of staying up-to-date. These websites use the same or similar technology to websites reviewed on this blog previously, when we looked at using them for other applications, such as keeping links to all your favourite websites on your home page or learning about current trends in a selected therapy area. This time, this blog posting will consider these sites as aggregators. As before (see Are personal webportals useful for medical communicators?), the ability to colour-code the headers is useful to categorise your newsfeeds (see example of a webpage below, where the BBC health newsfeeds have red headers and the Lancet newsfeeds have grey headers).

Netvibes website news aggregator

The detail in the news aggregation website example shown above is unclear, so anyone interested may wish to link to the pdf of this image (see below).

Netvibes news aggregation website example.

The above example used Netvibes but similar mixtures of information are available with Pageflakes, Protopage and iGoogle. However, you might wish to read Are personal webportals useful for medical communicators?, which looks at the ease of use, pitfalls and advantages of these websites.

Choosing a news aggregator or webpage
The number of different news feed aggregators and webpages appear to be multiplying faster than a pathogen in a drug-resistant, immunocompromised patient. To further complicate matters, your choice of aggregator will not only depend on personal preferences, but also on your browser, operating system and the type of media you will be monitoring with news feeds (i.e. predominantly podcasts, journal current contents or videos). For these reasons, only a few examples of news feed aggregators and webpages are shown in the table below. Comparisons of some these technologies are available on the Internet and, to help you choose, a couple of the comparison websites are included in the table.

Table of aggregators

Links to the comparison websites:

http://www.aggcompare.com/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_feed_aggregators

How to subscribe to rss feeds

Finally, how do you subscribe to the newsfeeds? After all the complexities of choosing an aggregator format and technology, you’ll be delighted to know that it couldn’t be simpler to subscribe: just click on the orange RSS button… orange rss button

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Entry filed under: Health, Healthcare reporting, journalism, Journals, Medical writers, Medical writing, Medicine, NHS, Pharmaceutical, PubMed, Research, Science writing, Search engines, Web 2.0, Writing tools, tips and updates. Tags: .

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