Autodiscoverable Feeds and UK HEIs (Again…)

It’s that time of year again when Brian’s banging on about IWMW, the Instituional[ised?] Web Managers’ Workshop, and hence that time of year again when he reminds me* about my UK HE Feed Autodiscovery app that trawls through various UK HEI home pages (the ones on .ac.uk, rather than the one you get by searching for a uni name in Google;-)

* that is, tells me the script is broken and, by implication, gently suggests that I should fix it…;-)

As ever, most universities don’t seem to be supporting autodiscoverable feeds (neither are many councils…), so here are a few thoughts about what feeds you might link to, and why…

news feeds: the canonical example. News feeds can be used to pipe news around various university websites, and also syndicate content to any local press or hyperlocal news sites. If every UK HEI published a news feed that was autodiscoverable as such, it would be trivial to set up a UK universities aggregated newswire.

research announcements: I was told that one reason for putting out press releases was simply to build up an institutional memory/archive of notable events. Many universities run research newsletters that remark on awarded grants. How about a “funded research” feed from each university detailing grant awards and other research funding. Again, at a national level, this could be aggregated to provide a research funding newswire, as well as contribtuing data to local archives of research funding success.

jobs: if every UK HEI published a jobs/vacancies RSS feed, it would trivial to build an aggregator and let people roll their own versions of jobs.ac.uk.

events: universities contribute a lot to local culture through public talks and exhibitions. Make it easy for the local press and hyperlocal news sites to syndicate this info, and add events to their own aggregated “what’s on” calendars. (And as well as RSS, give ’em an iCal feed for your events.)

recent submissions to local repository: provide a feed listing recent submissions to the local research output/paper repository (and/or maybe a feed of the most popular downloads); if local feeds are you thing, the library quite possibly makes things like recent acquisition feeds available…

YouTube uploads: you might was well add an autodiscoverable feed to your university’s recent uploads on YouTube. If nothing else, it contributes an informal ownership link to the web for folk who care about things like that.

your university Twitter feed: if you’ve got one. I noticed Glasgow Caledonian linked to their Twitter feed through an autodiscoverable link on their university homepage.

tenders: there’s a whole load of work going on in gov at the moment regarding transparency as it relates to procurement and tendering. So why not get open with your procurement and tendering data, and increase the chances of SMEs finding out what you’re tendering around. If the applications have to go through a particular process, no problem: link to the appropriate landing page in each feed item.

energy data: releasing this data may well become a requirement in the not so far off future, so why not get ahead of the game, e.g. as Lincoln are starting to do (Lincoln U energy data)? If everyone was publishing energy data feeds, I’m sure DevCSI hackday folk would quickly roll together something like the aggregating service built by college student @issyl0 out of a Rewired State hack that pulls together UK gov department energy data: GovSpark

XCRI-CAP course marketing data feeds: JISC is giving away shed loads of cash to support this, so pull your finger out and get the thing published.

location data: got a KML feed yet? If not, why not? e.g. Innovations in Campus Mapping

PS the backend of my RSS feed autodiscovery app (founded: 2008) is a Yahoo pipe. Just because, I thought I’d take half an hour out to try and build something related on Scraperwiki. The code is here: UK University Autodiscoverable RSS feeds. Please feel free to improve or, fork it, etc. University homepage URLs are identified by scraping a page on the Universities UK website, but I probably should use a feed from the JISC Monitoring Unit (e.g. getting UK University location/contact data).

PPS this could be handy for some folk – the code that runs the talks@cam events site: http://source.caret.cam.ac.uk/svn/projects/talks.cam/. (Thanks Laura:-) – does it do feeds nicely now?! Related: Keeping Up With Events, a quickly hacked app from my Arcadia project that (used to) aggregate Cambridge events feeds.)

Government Communications – Department Press Releases and Autodiscoverable Syndication Feeds

A flurry of articles earlier this week (mine will be along shortly) about the Data Strategy Board all broadly rehashed the original press release from BIS. Via the Cabinet Office Transparency minisite, I found a link to the press release via the COI News Distribution Service…

…whereupon I noticed that the COI – Central Office of Information – is to close at the end of this month (31 March 2012), taking with it the News Distribution Service for Government and the Public Sector (soon to be ex- of http://nds.coi.gov.uk/).

In its place is the following advice: “For government press releases please follow this link to find the department that you require http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Dl1/Directories/A-ZOfCentralGovernment/index.htm This leads to a set of alphabetised pages with links to the various government departments… i.e. it points to a starting point for likely fruitless browsing and searching if you’re after aggregated press releases from gov departments.

(I’m not sure where News Sauce: UK Government Edition gets its data from, but if it’s by scrapes of departmental press releases rather than just scraping and syndicating the old COI content, then it’s probably the site I’ll be using to keep tabs on government press releases.)

FWIW, centralisation and aggregation are not the same in terms of architectures of control. Aggregation (then filter on the way out, if needs be) can be a really really useful way of keeping tabs on otherwise distributed systems… I had a quick look to see whether anyone was scraping and aggregating UKGov departmental press releases on Scraperwiki, but only came up with @pezholio’s LGA Press Releases scraper…

An easier way would be to hook up my feed reader to an OPML bundle that collected together RSS/Atom feeds of news releases from the various government websites. I’m not sure if such a bundle is available anywhere (if you know of one, please add a link in the comments below), but if: 1) gov departments do publish RSS/Atom feed containing their press releases; 2) they make these feeds autodiscoverable via their homepages, and: 3) ensure that said feeds are reliably identifiable as press release/media release feeds, it wouldn’t be too hard to build a simple OPML feed generator.

So for example, trawling through old posts, I note that the post 404 “Page Not Found” Error pages and Autodiscoverable Feeds for UK Government Departments used a Yahoo Pipes pipe to try to automatically audit feed autodiscovery on UK gov departmental homepages, though it may well have rotted by now. If I was to fix it, I’d probably reimplement it in Scraperwiki, as I did with my UK HEI feed autodiscovery thang (UK university autodiscoverable RSS Feeds (Scraperwiki scraper), and Scraperwiki View; about: Autodiscoverable Feeds and UK HEIs (Again…)). If you beat me to that, please post a link to your scraper below;-)

I have to admit I haven’t checked the state of feed autodiscovery on UK gov, local gov, or university websites recently. Sigh… another thing to add to the list of ‘maybe useful’ diversions…;-)

See also: Public Data Principles: RSS Autodiscovery on Government Department Websites?

PS This tool may or may not be handy if feed autodiscovery is new to you? Feed Autodiscovery in Javascript

PPS hmm, from Tracking Down Local Government Consultation Web Pages, I recall there are LGD service ID codes that lists identifiers for local government services that can be used to tag webpages/URLs on local government sites. Are there service identifiers for central government communication services (eg provision of press releases?) that could be used to find central gov department press releases (or local gov press releases for that matter?) Of course, if departments all had autodiscoverable press release feeds on their homepages, it’d be a more weblike way;-)