Alexandra Samuel is the CEO of Social Signal, a Vancouver-based company that develops online communities for non-profit, government and business clients. Her recent Drupal projects include telecentre.org and NetSquared.
Keeping ahead of the news is one of the most crucial challenges for any public-facing organization, whether it's a community group striving for social change or a government agency trying to anticipate public criticism. Well-funded government and business groups -- and even large non-profits -- have enjoyed a wide and growing range of tools for tracking both conventional and new media, ranging from old-fashioned news clipping services to the latest generation of premium (and expensive) online news trackers.
But the struggling local activist group, or the thinly-stretched community organization, also have a lot at stake in effective news tracking. Catching a story below the radar and riding it into mainstream headlines can be a first step towards raising an organization's profile -- or towards getting its issues onto the public agendas. The trick is to find an affordable way of tracking the news so that an organization's staff and members can stay on top of all the latest developments.
That's become a lot easier with the advent of RSS, RSS-enabled search tools like Technorati and Google News Alerts, and free web-based RSS newsreaders like Bloglines and Pluck. To really make the most of RSS news tracking, however, an organization needs a powerful and customizable way to aggregate, annotate and republish relevant news items.
Enter Aggregator2, an add-in module for the Drupal content management system. Drupal has previously gotten some love on this site as the platform behind projects like
That feature set makes Aggregator2 an exceptionally flexible choice for setting up a nonprofit news tracker that aggregates news from a wide range of blogs, news sites and search engines. Because Aggregator2 saves each individual item as an independent node (like a web page) in Drupal, you can edit or annotate news items after you bring them onto your site. Because Aggregator2 lets you assign different tags to different incoming feeds, you can set up different news pages for different topics, and direct news to show up on the appropriate pages. And Aggregator2 is also a terrific tool for integrating content from multiple related web sites or overlapping organizations.
At Social Signal we've used Aggregator2 to help move news through the different parts of the emergent telecentre.org network. We use it to bring news and links onto our own web site, including a web page that rounds up nonprofit technology news based on the nptech tag and other search terms. And we used Aggregator2 to set up a pilot aggregation site, Confeederation, to track candidate blogs during the recent Canadian federal elections.
Even within the Drupal community, Aggregator2 is an under-appreciated resource. A lot of Drupal sites still use Drupal's out-of-the-box aggregation tool, and miss out on Aggregator2's potential for setting up powerful news tracking and innovative integration of content from multiple web sites. By offering small- and medium-sized organizations a way of creating internal or public-facing news trackers, Aggregator2 creates an opportunity to level the playing field in the ever-tough competition to get ahead of the next news cycle.
Aggregator2 has been out for a while - I've been using it for a fairly long time with Drupal 4.6.6 and have found that it works quite well. It's how I've been getting my Flickr pictures on KnowProSE.com, and other things... importing to a node adds a nice touch.
eAsylum.net, btw, is no longer me. ;-)
RSS aggregation is cool. But Drupal's not the only thing out there that can do it. :-)
The PloneRSS product (http://plone.org/products/plonerss) does the exact same thing for Plone, another popular open-source CMS that has wide use in the environmental + NGO sectors (and also in academia, business, and government).
Drupal is a very poor choice of technology for serious content management projects. Those who care about social software features use mediawiki and those more focused on complex content management and user-authored aggregation use tikiwiki. A simple stupid example is the Nova Scotia news page at openpolitics.ca. If you click "edit" on that you can see how it is built, and any user can learn to write such stuff.
There is no need and no purpose for RSS feeds to become a technology of their own. They need to be embedded in wikis that use standard formats that are in widespread use, NOT the Drupal wiki format which no one else uses. There are half a million articles correctly named and linked to equivalent articles in other languages in Wikipedia, which uses mediawiki. You will not ever recreate that taxonomy and deep cross-linkage using drupal nor tikiwiki, there is no choice but to extend mediawiki as wikia.com is doing. All technology effort put into improving Drupal or blogs is just a waste, these technologies are purely ephemeral.
The most effective blog projects tend to be those that have paired up with a parallel mediawiki front end. Two good examples are DailyKos with the persistent dkosopedia, and PRwatch with the persistent SourceWatch. One using tikiwiki as the wiki is Green Party of Canada's front page with its Living Platform policy wiki backing it up. These are the architecture that will make nonprofits work seamlessly in the future, with drupal and blog extensions nowhere in sight. They're both just a transitional technology to the wiki-centric web2.0.
If you have any problems with mediawiki, list them here, you can edit this page. Its most demanding users have already compiled a good list of what's wrong with tikiwiki. Most of what's wrong with mediawiki is its abuse of "community" and spatial metaphor which tend to make it easy to justify thuglike suppression of users, and harder to integrate actual geospatial data and commands.