Why cool? Why important?

I mentioned earlier today that the Democrats have launched some RSS feeds. I mentioned that this was “cool and somewhat important” – now for the explanation… (Be forewarned, the following is a little bit on the techy side)

It is cool because anyone with an RSS news aggregator, like NetNewsWire and others can check out what the Dems have to say. It’s hard to explain why news aggregators work where email doesn’t, but once you try one I think you’ll get the idea. I find it much easier to access information of interest using an aggregator than I do by subscribing to mailing lists and the like.

RSS being used for this purpose is also important because RSS is a file format that can be programatically accessed and manipulated in new and interesting ways. A simple (and not very exciting) example is a website that subscribes to the press releases from all the political parties and displays them on an easy to access, possibly searchable, website. I am not aware of any service that does this currently. Low cost (cost for traffic and storage as no human intervention is required) with the potential for great benefit, particularly if extended to many different types of information such as voting on key issues in parliament.

Of course this requires all of the parties to establish RSS feeds, but this is not hard. It does increase visibility though, and this may not be considered by some parties as being in their own best interests. The Greens would do well to follow the Democrats lead.

But why is this important? Leading up to the last Federal election I actually went looking for information from the Greens and the Democrats about their positions on key issues. The Greens site was quite good, but the Democrats left a lot to be desired. I see RSS as a way of providing information in an easier to access way, and over time so that there is not a need to read through page upon page at election time, where the emphasis is largely placed on the issues of the moment.

It also breaks through the journalistic barriers that are in place in the mainstream media, getting the message from the source instead of hoping that it will be reported in the papers and on TV. Obviously each party is going to have their own biases in the information they provide, but I feel this is still beneficial, and avoids what seems to be the common occurrance of getting some right-wing or neo-liberal take on what was said, presented in almost a dismissive way.