Like others in J-school I’m getting to know new classes, spending a bit of time talking about the ‘gathering’ part of journalism and how digital tools can help. So yesterday I bullied my class of postgrads through, among other things, RSS and [Google reader](http://reader.google.com).

When I raised the topic, one of the class commented that “it’s just like twitter”

I initially disagreed, talking about the differences of simply gathering, organising and filtering content and actually interacting with people.  But I’ve had a little time to reflect and, do you know, I don’t think that’s a bad way to think about RSS at all.

Twitter is about building a network of people who you can engage with and (positively) use. A network that is big enough not only to give what you want but also what you thought you didn’t need. The serendipity of twitter is one of its charms.

RSS is a lot like that but with websites and not people. The bigger your ‘network’ of websites, the more chance you’ll find something of interest.

For journalists a lot of the motivations for using the tool are the same: network building; time managment etc.

Points of reference

When I introduced Reader, a few people in the room had heard of it (and used it); Most had not. That’s always a surprise to me, but not a criticism of the students. The early days of new classes are always an interesting reality check for me. My world (geeky and riven through with online as it is) is not always the real world! So it’s nice when something gives you pause to reflect.

It made me think a little more about points of reference. I’ve worked through a chronology of this stuff. Started using Reader before twitter and felt the transition in passive to active engagement as the web has developed. That makes sense to me. But a lot of people in the room have come the other way. Facebook and twitter are their point of entry and reference.

Maybe that shows that digital/online journalism is really maturing now (or maybe just my view). Like many other things it’s now as important to look back at how this stuff has developed as it is simply to use it. Even if that ‘history’ is only five or six years young!

Update Kate, the one who suggested RSS is like twitter, reminded me that I should quote my sources.

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