Web feeds are essentially a way for you to “subscribe” to receive information from a given site or organization. New content is delivered directly to you instead of having to check sites for updates. For instance, you can “subscribe” to this blog so that any new posting is delivered to you automatically. Often they’re called RSS feeds (RSS = Really Simple Syndication), but another common format is Atom. This is great for getting updates or news from sites or organizations, but one challenge can be the sheer volume of information. Finding relevant information can be like trying to drink from a fire hose.
Many standard readers or content aggregators don’t allow you to filter the feeds based on keywords relevant to you. Even if they allow searching or filtering of articles, there often isn’t a way to share results with others (like students, for instance).
Happily, there are some free web-based aggregators that will allow you to filter a selection of feeds and share them with others. This could be a powerful way to provide some relevant course-related current events for students either from news sites or from organizations you know and trust.
Yahoo Pipes (http://pipes.yahoo.com/) is one powerful tool that allows web feeds (and lots of other content) to be customized, filtered and shared publicly (or not). There are others out there (e.g. NewsGator, FeedRinse), but i’ve only played around a bit with Yahoo Pipes (and have barely scratched the surface). For a quick intro to Pipes, see http://www.simplehelp.net/2007/07/16/an-introduction-to-yahoo-pipes/
Customizing web feeds can be useful for you and your students. If you know of other tools like this that allow filtering and sharing of web feeds, we’d love to hear about them.