West Midland RSS rotters named and shamed

By Joanna Geary on Dec 5, 08 07:05 PM in Digital

I've often wondered why so many organisations seem reluctant to embrace ways that the Internet makes it easier to get their messages out.

This is particularly the case when poor websites belonging to West Midland organisations make my job more complicated and time-consuming.

This has been the case recently and, after much frustration, I have decided it is time to name and shame.

Take RSS, for instance. If you are reading a blog, you're likely to be aware of RSS. This is either because you've used it or because you've seen the little orange button around the place.

RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is a fantastic way to avoid having to visit every website in order to see if there are any updates. By subscribing to an RSS feed using an RSS reader, any new information added to a site comes directly to you.

The Birmingham Post offers a whole collection of RSS Feeds that people can subscribe to. If you like the News Blog, you can subscribe to a feed for it. Or, if you just want to hear from one of the authors, you can just subscribe to their feed.

RSS can also be used by developers to create entirely new ways to display that information. The Post uses RSS to publish alerts of news stories on Twitter.

Now, when it comes to other organisations, surely they would be using RSS to make it easy for people to read about their news and events?

Not so. Not here in the West Midlands at least.

I've been trying to collect RSS feeds from regional bodies so that we better monitor West Midland information out on the web.

However, if we had to rely on West Midlands organisations to publish their own RSS feeds we'd be completely stuck.

Work is still in progress, but so far only ten 12 out of the 38 regional bodies I have reviewed are using RSS.

As a result I'm spending far more time than I would like trying to create makeshift feeds using a rather handy tool called Dapper. But some websites are too poorly designed for even this to work properly.

So here are the lists of forward-thinking stars that use RSS feeds and then also the rotters that do not:

RSS Stars:

1. Warwick University
2. Birmingham City University
3. Centro
4. Aston Villa Football Club
5. West Midlands Learning & Skills Council
6. Birmingham Voluntary Service Council
7. Walsall Voluntary Action
8. Sandwell Council of Voluntary Organisations
9. West Midlands Police
10. Advantage West Midlands
11. University of Birmingham
12. Warwickshire Police

RSS Rotters (with a few terribly-designed websites thrown in):

1. Birmingham City Council
2. Sandwell Council
3. Dudley Council
4. Coventry Council
5. Solihull Council
6. Walsall Council
7. Aston University
8. Business Link West Midlands
9. Birmingham Chamber of Commerce
10. Birmingham Forward
11. The Lunar Society
12. National Express West Midlands (formerly Travel West Midlands)
13. Birmingham City Football Club
14. Walsall Football Club
15. West Bromwich Albion Football Club
16. Wolverhampton Football Club
17. Coventry Football Club
18. Warwickshire Cricket Club
19. Worcestershire Cricket Club
20. NHS West Midlands Strategic Health Authority
21. Staffordshire Police
22. West Mercia Police
23. West Midlands Ambulance Service
24. Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service
25. Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service
26. West Midlands Fire and Rescue Service

Now I don't know how this list compares to other UK regions (and I'd be interested to find out), but that seems pretty poor to me. Even more so because it comes from a region that hopes to include one of Europe's leading digital cities by 2010.

Does anyone have any better examples?

****After publishing this post, some readers have submitted good examples of RSS use. I am happy to update this as and when people submit examples - it might make a useful resource for people.

At the moment the list suggests borough councils might be outdoing their larger county and metropolitan counterparts in the RSS stakes.

These are:

- North Warwickshire Borough Council.
- Warwick District Council
- Rugby Borough Council
- Voluntary Action Stoke on Trent (although not much content on there!)
- University Hospitals Birmingham (although there is no button to indicate it is there!)
- West Midlands Regional Observatory


NED LUD said:

whatever the validity of your point, you've ruined it all with a needlessly combative approach. the real shame is not on the people who run those websites, but on you for taking this silly tabloid approach instead of positive constructive communication and engagement. is this how you're going to help local businesses to embrace these technologies, via bullying?! it's not as if the post's website isn't full of dead links or anything.

Ursula said:

RSS? Call me a dinosaur but I love clicking on the website and its blog as and when I think of someone. Such anticipation - such surprise finding something new (or not) - a little like slashing open the envelope of a handwritten letter. RSS misses many a nuance.

Though, in the name of efficiency, no doubt you are right.


PS Joanna, personal tip: Never apologize for being combative and what you say in good faith ("rotters" - so what?)

Nina said:

This is an absolute disgrace. A journalist having to find out information for themselves? What on earth do I pay my council tax for if not to ensure my local authority does my local newspaper's job free of charge? I shall be writing to my ward representative forthwith to demand somebody is taken on at tax-payers expense to remedy this situation immediately.

Joanna Geary said:

Billy: Thanks. Will check that out tomorrow morning and correct. I hadn't seen it on the news page.

Nina: Ummm. Is it just journalists that this effects? Wouldn't it affect other people too? I think my point was that RSS helps many people access information, not just journalists.

NED LUD said:

i'm not denying that there's not a valid point about the usefulness of rss - but the way you have gone about it is no better than a bully. sadly, the basis of your post wasn't even to help people use technology more effectively for their benefit - it was born out of YOUR frustration of not getting what YOU want. if you'd stepped outside of that particular personal frustration, you might have produced something more positive and useful.

Neil Collins said:

Joanna - I realise you are being tongue-in-cheek but actually this is a serious issue and these organisations ought to be 'bullied' - calling the 'powerful' to account in no uncertain terms is the job of the media. If NED LUD can't take it (and, given his responses, I'm willing to bet he works at one of the orgs listed) then that's too bad.

It really is a disgrace to see that so many public organisations are hiding away their (our) information.

RSS is simple, powerful, universal and has been around long enough that organisations should have adopted it by now.

If you intend to follow this article up (and it seems some like Nina need a constructive piece explaining what RSS is, at least) I should like the councils and police authorities listed above to give commitments as to when they will address this matter.

Birmingham on it's way to becoming a 'digital city'? Don't make me laugh.

dmc said:


i think you might have some issues, your response to the article is disproportional, and difficult to relate to. in fact your tone is quite unpleasant.

NED LUD said:

unfortunately it is far from laughable - when a respected journalist blogs on the website of a prominent media company, it carries quite a lot of weight - something the author must have been well aware. you cannot however foster constructive relationships with people by humiliating them - hence the call for a more positive tact. that people who don't agree chose to slur my character or dismiss me as 'laughable' is very sad indeed. peace not war x

NED LUD said:

i'm going to be touring the region in my 'rss peace' camper van preaching the good word of really simple syndication. if our poster wants to tour the playgrounds, i'll do the council houses. peace x

Rob said:

The original article was a good wake up call to those in the region who aren't using RSS and I agree it is a great tool - to make everyone's life a lot easier in gathering information. Not just for journalists, but any one bothered about what others are doing. However in all of the comments there is still no one pointing us in the direction of a solution if our organisation doesn't have an rss feed from their website.

I think it would be great if those in the know - could point everyone in the direction of tips to create such a feed within a site.
I wouldn't have even thought about it had Joanna not raised the point! so thank you! r

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