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Doug Johnson's Tech Proof

The Importance of
An Aggregator

The first things I do each time I turn on my computer are to open my email and GoogleReader in my web browser. I noticed a couple of months ago that I've started opening GoogleReader first, being more anxious to get to its contents than to that in my email.

Reflecting on a recent inservice I gave on personal learning networks, I had the epiphany that Ive been neglecting the true unsung hero of Web 2.0 -- the RSS feed aggregator/reader. GoogleReader1 has become such a routine part of my online experience that I forget it is still an unused resource for too many educators. And it is a tool that, if not mastered, makes it unlikely that other Web 2.0 resources will be well-used.

Common Craft has two great short videos: RSS in Plain English and Google Reader in Plain English. Those introductions do a better job of explaining the whys of RSS and RSS feed aggregator/readers than I can in print. Basically, though, a good aggregator/reader will list in a single place, usually a webpage, all the additions and changes to websites to which you have "subscribed." It is analogous to having ones newspaper delivered rather than having to go to the newsstand to pick it up.

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Blog reading was the first, and probably is still, the most important use of an RSS aggregator/reader for most teachers. Given educators' time constraints, finding updated information from lots of blogs in a single fast and convenient location is essential if blogs are to actually be used as a personal learning resource on a regular basis. 'Nuff said. It is only slowly that I am using GoogleReader to stay current on other information sources -- to have the news find me instead of me having to find the news3. (Yes, I am a slow learner.) These are more recent additions:

  • mainstream media columnists: Whenever New York Time's writers Paul Krugman, Maurreen Dowd, David Brooks, or Tom Friedman publish new columns, I now get them immediately. I am sure other columnists are available as well, but those are the ones I've sought out.
  • delicious subscriptions: When other delicious users add bookmarks with tags I have selected, they now appear in my aggregator. Cool.
  • GoogleNews searches2: Articles on e-books, cyberbullying, and school libraries appear almost daily in my reader, most published in the mainstream press. Whatever you want to track in the news, this is an easy way to do it.
  • reputation monitoring: I've added Technorati and delicious searches for "Doug Johnson" just to see which of my writings and blog posts are being bookmarked and commented upon. I know I must surprise some bloggers by saying "thanks for the mention" now and then in their own blogs. I also built a Google News search feed for "Mankato Area Public Schools" to track what is being written about our district in the press.

Dont spend your time searching for news and opinions. Train them to find you!


  1. GoogleReader is only one of a number of RSS feed aggregator/readers. Donna Baumbach has a list of others in different flavors at WebTools4U2Use.
  2. To set up a GoogleNews search in GoogleReader:
    • Go to GoogleNews and do the search on your term.
    • When the results come back, look in the left column of the screen. You will find links to RSS and Atom.
    • Click either one (I use RSS) and a page will appear with a URL link that ends in "=rss" or "=atom".
    • Copy and paste that link into your GoogleReader "Add subscription" box.
    • Manage the subscription like you would one to a blog.

Article by Doug Johnson
Education World®
Copyright © 2008 Education World

Updated 05/10/2011