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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Save time Webmaster! Use RSS feeds



I have been learning about the various tools to get the load off of me as webmaster of our school website. Recently, I attended a class on Macromedia Contribute and I was impressed. However, I dreaded the installation, training, and other work that always comes with software.

Then, I stumbled upon several websites that have made it easy to keep the school website updated -- with only my limited involvement. These use a relatively new technology called RSS feeds. They are:
  • RSS Calendar - www.rsscalendar.com -- The front office staff, always looking for ways to improve things, updates the calendar. We used categories so that news feed readers can subscribe to just the calendars they need. Check out our website at www.westwoodschools.org -- the calendar on the right and on the calendar pages comes directly from the online calendar. And when I say fast - I mean fast -- it updates immediately! That is two hours off my plate a week!
  • Flickr - www.flickr.com -- I am using this to add photos to the website and have the parents share the photos. I have a photo wizard in photoshop I have been using -- however the process took me about 30 minutes per album after I ran the wizard, checked the code and uploaded the photos. Now-- right click on the photo, upload to flickr - add a few tags and Kwam! Photos on the website! I created a banner using their wizard for the left of the homepage and a flash button for the left side of all of my templates. Easy!
  • Blogger - www.blogger.com -- I've created a blog just for news and have invited our major "newsmaker" teachers on campus to post. Using feedburner (see next) it automatically feeds into the home page and to my news page on the website. The great thing about this is the Archive. Blogger keeps the information there indefinitely so people looking for an old article can search it! It is an easy to use interface! No more mailing articles, copying, formatting it for my style sheet -- pain after pain! Another 30-45 minutes per week.
  • Feedburner - www.feedburner.com -- This is the cinchpin of the whole thing! I have a feedburner account to take the feeds from blog to website. I have used this to put the news on the homepage and to make it so that people can subscribe to both the blog and the calendar using e-mail if they think RSS is a kind of disease! I used to use topica but many of the addresses rejected me as spam so I had to go back to Outlook for our mailing list. I'm leaving that behind and am going to subscription feeds using feedburner and feedblitz (the power behind the e-mail features.)
The secret is to take it one step at a time! I had just planned to use the calendaring and boy did it snowball when I saw the time savings! I haven't had to train anyone! The interfaces are easy to use! (My list of next to dos -- integrate my appropriate blogroll lists and del.icio.us hyperlinks to the appropriate pages in the website.)

I'd love to hear from anyone who has other great tools out there to make things simple! I'm not sure what I'll do with all that "time" but then again -- I'm a computer science teacher/ web master/ tech support guru-- there is no such thing as time -- maybe I'll get around to inventing a way to make a Pentium II go faster-- hmmmm.
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