Oct. 21, 2006

Aggregating History

One of the assignments for Digital History from two weeks ago was to learn about and make use of an RSS aggregator. An aggregator is essentially a program that informs the user when a specific website has been updated. Who cares when websites are updated? Well, when you’re a Public History student with the blogs of sixteen peers and instructors to keep up with, you do! As soon as I got Feedreader up and running, I immediately realized the benefit of an aggregator. Every time a blog is updated, I am immediately notified with a Messenger-type box. When I open Feedreader to see who has posted, I need only click on the title of the new post to have the text pop up in another section of the program, without having to connect to the blog itself. As a result, keeping track of who has been blogging has transformed into a much more efficient task.

It seems that historians could use aggregators in a number of different ways. It might be easier to stay up-to-date with colleagues’ research if an aggregator was collecting the RSS feed (the data that a website generates when it is updated) from those individuals’ blogs or websites. For example, I might add the RSS feeds of digital historians’ blogs in order to keep abreast of new developments in this field.

Aggregating information from e-journals or newspapers’ websites might be important for some historians, but this might lead to an information overload. (Carling experienced such a problem when she began using an aggregator) It would be useful to hack an aggregator so that it could search larger sources for key terms or authors to reduce such an overload from occurring.

In terms of tracking traffic on a website, it seems that aggregators might give a false impression that sites are not very popular. If a blog was scanned solely by aggregating programs, then traffic-observing software would note only a brief visit to the site, even though the human reader might thoroughly read each post. Nevertheless, RSS aggregators aresimple yet useful tools for gathering information from a variety of sources.