Newspapers of the 21st century
I've always been engrossed in the written word in one form or another. I just started to get into blogging and news feeds recently. After publishing articles and newsletters for several years through opt-in newsletter subscriptions, I never considered syndicating my articles as an option, only because it looked so complicated to learn how and I really didn't expect it to be so easy. I thought news feeds were only for news sites like CNN or MSNBC.
It wasn't until I started noticing the little orange XML and RSS icons popping up on other types of sites that I started doing a little research on RSS. That led me to download and test RSSReader (a free standalone aggregator) to see how subscribing to a rss news feed actually works. Then I discovered that Firefox had a built in RSS reader and some sites with rss feeds automatically display an icon in the bottom corner of it so you can easily subscribe and create what's called a 'live bookmark' with tabs for each item. There is also a plug-in rss reader for IE called Pluck. I thought that was pretty neat, so with a little more research and a few hours of coding, testing and validation, I had an XML/RSS news feed on my site too. Then I submitted it to a few syndication sites.
Then it crossed my mind that syndicating news feeds on the web is a lot like my very first job and how ironic that I'm still basically doing the same thing to a degree. I had a paper route. I had the largest route for after school delivery for the evening news in my district back then. I had 140 to 160 customers at any given time. I got to meet people and make friends that I would never have even known if I hadn't delivered their paper and visited their house every week to collect. I didn't realize at the time that I was networking by also providing personal services that didn't have anything to do with the papers I delivered. I knew who needed a babysitter on Saturday night, the elderly woman that lived alone and needed help carrying water into her kitchen, the grumpy old man who always gave a bigger tip if he couldn't intimidate me, the ones who had a vision impairment and counted on me to make the correct change, the woman who offered me a cool drink most days just to sit and talk with her, which family just had a new baby, who got married, divorced or widowed, who wanted to hire someone to cut their grass and do yard work every week, and I even met my future spouse (of 30+ years now) on that paper route.
That paper route taught me a lot and it also helped me develop a keen sense of people and how to size them up quickly. There were a few people that I dreaded trying to collect from. The creepy man in his thirties with inch long fingernails that always wanted me to come inside the house when his mother wasn't home, big red flag... the smart-aleck guy who always showed me that weeks paid ticket because he was getting them from a relative (the district manager caught him)... the elderly woman with a bad memory who every week insisted that she just paid me a week ago but didn't want to pay by the month because it was too hard for her to remember... the yard with three Dobermans in it and a 'no trespassing' sign posted where I had to catch them coming or going to even have a shot at getting paid... and my favorite type of customer, the ones who wouldn't pay because they said they didn't even take the paper--but then would complain when the delivery was stopped. :)
Besides the obvious safety reasons, motor route paper delivery has long since replaced the neighborhood 'paper carrier' and taking with it, the personal service and networking that belonged to them. Gone are the days of school paper drives for recycling newspapers, lining bird cages, swatting flies and puppy training with layers of disposable, dried tree pulp for the majority of people who now have a personal computer in their home. Now we have more modern alternatives to newspaper for wrapping breakables when we move. We can use our 'finely shredded for added security' financial documents and correspondence for that. Plastic grocery bags just don't have the cushion that a wadded up newspaper had, but they do come in handy for stuffing balloon valances and carrying small amounts of dirty laundry. :)
No one had a computer back then and if you had asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I could not have possibly said, "I want to be a web designer and developer". So, it's hard to say which changed my life more, my paper route or my computer. If you've got a computer, you don't even need to hang out at the local library to do research or get current news anymore. Type a keyword or phrase into any search engine. Anything you want to know is right at your fingertips from the comfort of your own home. Information overload and the time it takes to sift through it consumes most of our spare time until we discover the benefits of pop-up blockers, spam filters, throw away e-mail addresses and news aggregators.
The end user is demanding more control of their internet experience. Now our news and topics of interest are stored on any number of servers and delivered to us on demand through rss news feeds if we so desire. We pick and choose what we actually want to read by skimming and discard the rest, just like the newspaper, we each have our favorite sections and interests. If the world wide web is the new world library, search engines are the 'card drawers', databases are the 'micro-fiche', the browser is the modern 'fiche' machine, and web servers are the new publishing houses, then text formatted in HTML, parsed through xml and rss is the new newspaper of the 21st century.
With the ever increasing problem of spam, growing numbers of traditional newsletter subscribers whose e-mail addresses sometimes become targets for every conceivable kind of advertisement, are increasingly moving toward better methods for getting the information they want. It may well be that rss news readers have become the method of choice, delivering not only news as it's published, but interactive commentary as well as entertainment. However, the average subscribers are more than just readers now, they are active participants, publishers, writers and editors of web sites and blogs. Portals, blogging sites and free programs are making it easier for anyone who really wants to publish, be able to participate in the creation of information to a global audience. Just as it was the crux of a successful paper route, the personalization and interaction of people through blogs and news feeds is what makes them so appealing to readers. Not just worldly or local traditional 'newsworthy' news that someone else picks for us, but news on any topic of interest... person to person. Anyone who thinks the internet is just about technology or business is missing the whole point. It's all about people and how to be of service to people.
I'm in awe of the power and possibilities of the web, which is probably why I research, study and earn my living at it. It levels the playing field so everyone can participate in the technology. Not just businesses and geeks, but housewives, farmers, grandpas, students, professors, artists, everyone from any walk of life can input and participate. Simply by creating an rss news feed for distribution through an aggregator (news reader), our thoughts and ideas can be delivered to the masses on demand where it can be unsubscribed from at will and automatically updated, without a hassle, giving us all the ability to use rss readers as a paperboy of sorts, delivering 21st century news in a whole new neighborhood.
Oh yeah, remember that woman who offered me a cool drink most days just to sit and talk to her? It turned out she was sizing me up as potential daughter-in-law material. You could say she hooked me up. This year will mark our 33rd wedding anniversary... now, that's networking!
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