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Marshall's Web Tool Blog

Training and Consulting in New Tools for Effective Web Use

This site is an archive of posts that I hope you will find useful. Please visit my new site at Marshallk.com.

Using Tags to Create an Attention Stream

The possibilities enabled by social bookmarking and tagging (definitions) are endless, and something we've all just begun to explore. It's very exciting. If you get in the habit of using these tools well, they will provide so much value for you that you will never want to stop using them.

One of the newest and most interesting uses of social bookmarking and tagging is the creation of what's being called an "attention stream."

An attention stream is like a collaborative newswire. A group of people (co-workers, collaborators, a Community of Practice) decide upon a common tag they want to share for designating items they believe to be of common interest to members of the group. That tag is then applied when tagging blog posts with Technorati Tags, saving news items and web sites in Furl or Del.icio.us, photos in Flickr, calendar events at Upcoming.org, stated goals in 43 Things, or anything else that lets users apply tags like keywords to saved items. This doesn't have to be the only tag you apply to any item, you just include your attention stream tag amongst other tags when you want an item included in the stream.

Nothing will appear in your attention stream that hasn't been put there by another participant in the attention stream. It's a way to send something to a group, but without clogging their email inboxes or getting caught in junk mail boxes. It's very unobtrusive to subscribe to an RSS feed, and you will simply be notified when there are new items in the feed. You can read them or skip them, with very little clutter. There is the potential for outsiders to spam your stream, but if you chose a word or phrase that is unlikely to be used in any other than this very explicit circumstance - then the tag spammers are unlikely to find your stream at all. So don't chose a tag like "technology" or "oregon," but rather something unusual that people wouldn't think to use outside the scope of your project.

Next, you and others can watch the stream to learn from everyone's contribution to it. The simplest way to do this is to subscribe to the del.icio.us RSS feed (definition) for your shared tag; but if that's all you do then you are really going to miss a lot. Another way to watch the attention stream is to search for your tag at TagCentral.net. That will show you items tagged in lots of different platforms, instead of just one.

Finally, if you really want to be able to see what everyone is contributing you can grab all the rss feeds for the various tagging platforms and subscribe to them. It would be clumsy to try and read them separately, so it's best to combine them into a single spliced-together feed. If one person in the community can do this and share it with everyone, that's going to make it easiest.

Here's two examples:

nptech is a tag used to designate content as relevant to non-profit technology consultants, users, etc. The project has a web site that aggregates the things people tag nptech along with original articles and discussion. It started largely on del.icio.us, but people are using it in other tagging platforms as well. See a TagCentral search for nptech.

nptech meta feed (with pictures)
nptech meta feed (no pictures)

The two links above are RSS feeds that combine all the sources from TagCentral, listed on this page. There you can also find a javascript code snippet to put in your site if you'd like to resyndicate the headlines of the attention stream.

threatenedbloggers is a tag being used by The Committee to Protect Bloggers. (To see other tags the group's director has suggested, see this post.)

Two meta feeds for this tag are:
threatenedbloggers tag (with pictures)
threatenedbloggers tag (no pictures)

These meta feeds combine the feeds listed here. You can also go to that link to grab a javascript code to resyndicate the attention stream's headlines on your own site. Right now none of the Committee to Protect Bloggers proposed tags are being used by people other than the group's director. Thus the RSS feed for those tags would give you a look into web content he thinks is relevant to the group, but not content that others find of interest. Hopefully, supporters of that group begin using those proposed tags so that a shared repository of issue-specific online news is automatically compiled.

All the above feed combining was done with lazytom's FeedJumbler, a creation of Marcel Marchon.

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