Friday, 15 March 2013

Readers come and go but RSS remains

This week has seen one RSS reader disappear and an announcement that another one will disappear later in the year. Firstly, LinkedIn have announced that the inclusion of RSS feeds in their Groups has been discontinued. This became effective on 15 March 2013. Also this week, Google have announced they are shutting down Google Reader. This will be effective from 1 July 2013.

Despite these shifting sands in the tools available to read the RSS news feeds, such as those of the regulatory agencies, the RSS standard is here to stay and there are many other good tools which can be used to read and digest these vital sources of regulatory information.

RSS is a data format

As mentioned in my earlier posting about the value of RSS to regulatory professionals, RSS is a standard XML data structure used to disseminate news updates across the web, including many key regulatory agency web sites.

The XML data format is well defined and all RSS feeds should contain the following elements for each news item:

  • Title
  • Description (usually, but sometimes absent)
  • Date and time of publication
  • Link to news article (URL)

Sometimes other data metadata may be included such as categories or tags.

The strength in the standard

Because the data format for RSS feeds is standardised, provided the web sites adhere to these standard, it is possible to merge these data from multiple disparate sources in what is referred to as a mash-up.

Following the demise of RSS feeds from the LinkedIn Group Regulatory intelligence for pharma, I have used the RSS feeds which had been available via the Group to create an experimental mash-up which can be viewed on our SharePoint portal. I have also provided a list of those RSS feeds which were included in the LinkedIn Group and are now accessible in this mash-up.

Furthermore, RSS feeds or mash-ups of several feeds can be filtered by a variety of techniques which can be discussed later on this blog.

What other RSS readers can be used?

There are a number of RSS readers included in the EMA's RSS Guide, mentioned in my previous post.

In addition to these there are a number of tools which most regulatory professionals will already have available in the corporate environment.

Internet Explorer: Microsoft's web browser can be used to view RSS feeds. Below is an example of one of the EMA's news feeds viewed in Internet Explorer.

RSS in Internet Explorer

Outlook: Microsoft Outlook, which is part of the Office suite which many regulatory professionals use for e-mail, can also be used to view RSS feeds in much the same way as for e-mails (see view below).

RSS in Outlook

SharePoint: Microsoft's SharePoint is used in many pharmaceutical companies as a knowledge management and document management tool. This is designed to both serve and consume data in XML form. For this reason, it is well-suited to providing dashboards or portal pages which can incorporate RSS news sources. The mash-up mentioned earlier is one example of how SharePoint can display regulatory news feeds.

Others: There are several other good desktop applications which can be used to efficiently manage multiple RSS feeds, applying filters and other tools as necessary. Several of them have an ability to synchronise their feeds with Google Reader. This should not be a problem as they also act as good readers independently of Google Reader. One such reader, not on the EMA list, which I have found useful is RSSOwl. For further information I would suggest conducting a web search to identify other RSS readers and their reviews.

It is clear that RSS, as a well-defined data standard, can be aggregated and read in a variety of ways. As some regulators do not provide e-mail updates, yet do provide RSS feeds, consuming news feeds as RSS remains valuable to regulatory professionals.

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