If you haven’t been following this blog, you may want to view the previous discussion about RSS (Really Simple Syndication).
It's been an interesting trip heading down various RSS paths. The easiest path, although not terribly inspiring, was simply using the RSS subscription that is built into most browsers. Whenever you happen to come across an interesting site that offers RSS subscription, you just add it like you are creating a favorite.
The drawback with this method is that you have to remember to check your list of feeds and it doesn't offer a preview of the latest entries. One of the main reasons for using RSS is to save you time and be able to keep up with new content on a variety of sites--this method doesn't really help you do that very well although it does tell you when new articles are available.
Next I tried different readers. I chose not to try readers that require the installation of special software--although many reasons exist for using a desktop reader. However, I felt that teachers in particular would appreciate and desire the flexibility of using a reader that was available from any Internet-connected computer, so I tried bloglines, newsgator, and Google Reader. I really didn't like the layout of bloglines--even though it has a huge fan base. It felt too cluttered. Newsgator I liked because of its simple layout, multiple display options, and easy use. It felt comfortable with a folders-type structure on the left of the screen. But still, the preview of the articles were not very helpful since you couldn't really take a glance at all (or most) of your RSS feeds. Again, not a real time saver in my mind. Google Reader also has a clean look, but in addition, it has a nice preview of the most recent entries of all your feeds.
Click a particular subscription and you can view either the full articles or see them in list view with a single line that previews the title and first sentence. I also liked the easy way to note your favorites, share with others, and tag the articles with key terms. And uncharacteristically, I appreciated the recommendations of other blogs based on the ones I chose to add to the reader. In a separate article, I explain how to set up and use Google Reader.
The difference between these "homepages" or "start pages" and a regular Web page with HTML code to create links, text, and images are these moveable "boxes" of content. No longer are you creating static Web pages that simply link out--instead you are pulling content in. Although I found six resources for creating these types of homepages and tested them briefly, I created and used the homepages provided through Netvibes, Pageflakes, Symbaloo, and iGoogle.
Before I post my experiences with these homepages (I’ll be looking at Symbaloo first), I encourage you to try one or two of these sites yourself. What features do you like the best? How would a start page like the ones offered by these sites help you stay on top of the information you're chasing? Do you use one of these homepages already? Do you see any obvious applications for the classroom? (Note: You can create your own gadgets/widgets, too.) Have some fun...but be forewarned: you can easily get sucked in and not emerge for several hours.
To view the first article of this series on Web 2.0 resources and their use in the classroom, read, "What's All the Hype about Web 2.0?"