Digging up the web

After a three-month gap I’m back working on the second module of DH23Things, a digital skills programme for humanities researchers at Cambridge. Module 2 concentrates on managing information online and sets off with finding and filtering information. In Thing 8 we explore RSS, email alerts and alternative search engines.

I’ve used RSS feeds in the past and found them really annoying for two reasons: one, they were delivered to my Outlook inbox and came up as hundreds of unread items (very scary); two, I subscribed to too many so in the end I still had information overload and consequently never read any of them. I’ve now started afresh with Google Reader and subscribed to the Guardian Higher Education feed. However, as I’m already on their e-newsletter I get enough updates from them and, other than that I can’t think immediately of anywhere else to subscribe to, perhaps because it’s getting late.

Various widgets on the Cambridge Digital Humanities Network website rely on feeds from other digital humanities blogs or news sites to pull in new content automatically (e.g. Digital Humanities elsewhere). I couldn’t actually find many RSS feeds to add here though. One of the new features we’d like to add to the CRASSH site is the option to subscribe to an RSS feed of events, so more on that as the relaunch progresses.

Email alerts on the other hand I find enormously useful. I sporadically create Google alerts for CRASSH’s big public guest speakers and in this way I manage to follow news, fresh content (articles, blogs, videos), as well as blog pieces or reviews on their work. At the moment I have alerts for the eclectic mix of Edmund de Waal, Richard Sennett, Gareth Evans (the Australian politician, not the footballer as tends to come up on this search), Eric Schmidt, Melanne Verveer, Philippe de Montebello, Robert Levin… The list goes on; CRASSH is anything but dull. I actually don’t mind these cluttering up my inbox a little because I can quickly scan them for basics and then decide whether I have time for the whole piece. I also find deleting emails very satisfying. One downside of these alerts though is that they don’t seem to pick up on radio content very often, although YouTube content does come up. (Of course this depends on how the media content has been tagged and labelled.)

I certainly find email alerts more useful than RSS because the content comes to me. I’m wary of setting up RSS and creating yet another online window to look through on a daily basis, especially as it’s not often I have the time to search actively for new content. I pick up on enough interesting content that I don’t read via email newsletters and Twitter. While I recognise that having a reading list of online content could be reassuring and valuable, I suspect it becomes yet another online platform to ignore.

As for alternative search engines, I would like to share a link to a search for creative commons content (jumping ahead to thing 5 of module 2!) which I find fairly useful: http://search.creativecommons.org. You can also do an advanced search – which tends to be more accurate – in both Google Images and Flickr to find images that are creative commons.

And as for the deep hidden web, I don’t think it should be too much to expect that online content be usefully tagged. I try not to put pdfs online because it isn’t a web-friendly way to read text, but just a way of quickly dumping a Word document on a site. Some pdfs are web-browser friendly and can be searched – as in Evernote, the next Thing – depending on how they’ve been created. As our computer officer Glenn Jobson likes to say: all pdfs are equal, but some are more equal than others. And with those words of wisdom, I’ll say good night and bye for now.

3 thoughts on “Digging up the web

  1. I cannot find a way to make feed readers work for me either…. what I need is a better workflow for managing email updates, I think. I rarely want to read things there and then, so saving them to something like Pocket for later, or Evernote if I’m likely to want to hang onto them, would probably work better. It means putting aside time to go through content in Pocket at another time, but at least I have a vague idea of what’s in there and that I think it’s useful, as I put it there myself, whereas a feed reader just ends up with so much stuff…

    What form do you put content online in? What would you recommend for those who would normally have uploaded a PDF, but now realise that it’s not actually all that helpful?

  2. Hello Helen! I find delicious works very well to remind me to look at interesting webpages later – only takes a second to decide whether the email alert is worthy of bookmarking. Of course that’s also dependent on the webpages staying in place and unchanging. What’s Pocket?! Evernote definitely for pdfs I might to have on file.

    For content going online, text, images, audio/video, graphical illustration… I guess I was being a bit harsh on pdfs but there are free programmes like issuu that can take a pdf and make it interactive, so hyperlinks work properly e.g. http://www.crassh.cam.ac.uk/page/1011/whats-on-whos-here.htm. I think pdfs are more useful for information you don’t actually expect anyone to read – otherwise dense copy should be chopped up, broken down and made generally more web friendly.

  3. Pocket! http://getpocket.com/ I’ll add it as an extra for later Things. It’s a very useful ‘holding space’ for things you come across, but I think the challenge is to establish a good workflow or you’ll end up with it full of stuff you never go back to read. putting things in pocket on the fly, making time to go through and decide if you want to retweet, bookmark, clip or delete every week.

    Still very impressed you can do shorthand.

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