We have barked about MERLOT’s lack of RSS feeds for some time. Not that anyone really listens, or that this is even announced in the woods where trees makes sounds, but you can actually find MERLOT RSS feeds. Now the question- is this a smooth vintage or supermarket swill?
Here is what is wrong with RSS a la MERLOT (read on!)
(1) Feeds are far away, separated from their associated content. The RSS links are hidden away in this little un-marked room in a corner of the winery. There is nothing on the main MERLOT site that mentions the feeds nor is there any connection between the content category pages and the feeds that they have available. It’s like you have to whisper a password to the thug in the alley to get some juice.
(2)Barriers to Access the Feeds. To actually get to the feed links and see some familiar orangle XML icons, you must complete a web form providing name, email, web site where feeds will appear, and reason for using this prestigious feeds. Now, you can quite easily enter foobar information, as it instantly reveals the list of feeds, but this is rare, curoius, and stuffy to place even a low barrier to getting RSS feeds.
(3)Stilted Feed Choices. The winery is doling out 30 RSS feeds, the 10 newest items and the 10 newly reviewed items in 14 discipline categories, plus MERLOT wide. Why 14? Why not every category? Poor Lora is left out in the cold without a Geology feed.
(4)Lack of dynamic custom feeds. At both our Maricopa Learning eXchange and Darcy’s CAREO site at Calgary you can save the result of any search query as a customized feeds, not just a limited set of bottles handed out by the masters.
For example, you can get an RSS feeds for
* MLX Math packages from Scottsdale Community College
* MLX packages with “critical thinking” in the title
* CAREO objects that contain “geology” or “rocks”
* CAREO objects in Biology in video format
In fact, at the MERLOT 2003 Conference, Garry Putland from EdNA Online in Australia demonstrated how the EdNA site allows you to conduct deferated searches of not only EdNA’s learning objects but at the same time, MERLOTs– and (here is the kicker)- the EdNA search results are saved as a dynamic, custom RSS feed! In fact, during Garry’s presentation I created an EdNA account, conducted a customized search and got RSS from MERLOT that MERLOT cannot do itself.
This is typical clever Aussie know-how at work, and it certainly matches my preference for South Australian wines over the stuff from California.
It is not like it is technically challenging to have dynamic RSS feeds from search results. In fact, here is the BIG TECHNICAL secret for providing the results of search in RSS format. You take the same code that performs the search that your site already provides, and instead of spitting back a web page of content, you spit out the same information (title, link, description) in XML. It should take your programmers about an hour to sort it out.
I’ve been told numerous times that MERLOT is protective of its meta-data, the crown jewels, the coin of the realm. However, I still have not seen how providing a feed of item titles, content, and a link to a MERLOT item entry URL gives anything away. In fact, it should draw more people into MERLOT. Isn’t the content itself much more important than the meta-data? What is this abundant obsession with data about data?
I must be thick headed or just a moonshine lovin’ country fool, but I do not get why MERLOT treats their content like Dom Perignon but provides a Boones Farm flavor of RSS. It is offered from a wine steward in a new tuxedo allowing you the honor of sniffing a cork, but the product is more akin to cracking the bottle open on the tailgate of your chevy pickup.