Ears to the Ground: Tracking Your Online Community

With the continued proliferation of blogs, hyperlocal news sites, and online communities, it has become all the more important to maintain a up-to-the-minute awareness of your area’s digital content creators. Taking the time to check up on all of these sources can quickly get out of hand.

Having a good RSS aggregator is essential for keeping this task manageable. I have been using Netvibes for years, and it’s helped me stay on top of all of this online traffic all that time.

Sample Netvibes library portalOne of the things I really like about this site is that it gives me the ability to see a variety of site updates at a glance. As a visual thinker, this is essential.

But what sort of content do you add? In addition to all your local media (including your local paper, and portals like patch.com), you’ll want to keep an eye on many other things:

  • Community bloggers. There’s a good chance that several of your patrons have blogs of their own. Not only can you recommend new materials and services to them, but they may help you find other area bloggers, via their links and blogrolls.
  • Flickr photos. Any Flickr search can be converted into an RSS feed. Netvibes also allows you to convert this into a slideshow.
  • Tweets from information-seekers. As with Flickr, all Twitter searches can be converted into RSS feeds. Put in searches for commonly asked library questions, like “recommend book” or “help assignment,” limited to a 1-mile radius of your home ZIP code. You won’t always get hits right away, but when they do pop up, it’s a great opportunity to provide service at your users’ point of need.
  • Anything (and everything) else. The great part about Netvibes is its scalability and ease of organization. Is one page getting too crowded? Create another tab for more feeds! You can make tabs for just blogs, news, Twitter searches, book reviews, or anything else you deem relevant to your community.

Netvibes isn’t the only aggregator out there. Google Reader does a great job, and Pageflakes is another useful tool. I’m partial to Netvibes because it can aggregate more than just RSS content, the use of multiple tabs for organization, and the ability to sort content with a simple drag-and-drop. If you use Mozilla Firefox, the Netvibes plugin makes it even easier to throw content into your collection.

As you develop a stronger awareness of the players in your online community, you can reach out to them, discover new ways your library can help, or even invite them to post content on your own blog.

Good luck setting up your own feed reader! Share your suggestions for good feeds to follow in the comments.

–Toby Greenwalt, Skokie Public Library

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