Turning Feeds Into Emailed Alerts

Sometimes information managers (including librarians- not neccessarily the feed owners) want to offer users the option of subscribing to a feed via email instead of an aggregator, and this option may be especially attractive when the library facilitates the use of feeds for Current Awareness or SDI purposes.

Why would a library want to turn feed items into emailed updates?
Maybe there are users who don’t want to learn about aggregators, or who are really comfortable with managing email. Maybe the user wants to subscribe to a very small number of feeds, so emailed output won’t be overwhelming in an email inbox. The bottom line is that the library should give users as many methods as possible through which users can receive current awareness/SDI updates. If the user has been shown how feeds are easy to use and save the user time/hassle/mistakes and still wants email- give ’em email.

Some Tools
This is by no means a comprehensive list, just a few that I know of. If you’ve used and liked other services, please leave a comment and let me know?

    I’ve used RSSFWD a few times, found it quick and easy to use, and I think it is a great option when all you want to do is turn a feed into email updates one time for one person (I made another note on how this can be useful for “official news” current awareness here). For a few details on how to turn a feed into email updates with RSSFWD, see this post.
  • Rmail
    I’ve tried Rmail, and liked it. I think the first time I had a form on a blog of mine that let the reader enter an email address to subscribe to the blog via email, I used Rmail. It now has a form on its front page that, like RSSFWD, lets you quickly enter a feed URL and an email address to create an email subscription. I’m not clear on the chronology, but I *think* Rmail was an early leader in this sort of service. Perhaps its creator, Randy Charles Morin, might confirm that. I subscribe to the feed of Randy’s RSS Blog.
  • RSS2email
    I’ve said before that I am hesitant about using web-based services from start-ups because I worry that today’s hot to Web 2.0 services will be eulogized in tomorrow’s Wired Magazine (ruining all the hard work you did setting up the feeds with the now-defunct service), so I liked right away the fact that RSS2email can be installed to run locally on your own machines (Windows, UNIX, or Linux). It requires Python 2.x and an email server through which to send the emails, so it requires a good bit more geek involvement than Rmail or RSSFWD. I haven’t tried it myself yet, but really want to. If any readers have tried it, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
  • Bot A Blog
    Like RSSFWD and Rmail, Bot A Blog has a simple form with which you can enter a feed URL and an email address in order to quickly and easily create an email subscription to a feed. One thing I noticed and liked about Bot a Blog is that it has a Bulk Subscription form that makes it easy to subscribe via email to up to 25 feeds at a time. My feeling is that 25 feeds os probably a lot to try to manage via email, but that’s still a neat feature for those whose time would be saved by it.
  • FeedBurner
    FeedBurner Logo

If I were building a specialized portal through which users could subscribe to a feed by aggregator or email, I might very well use FeedBurner, and have recommended it in the past, going as far as to demonstrate how it might be used to easily create a subscription portal.

Feedburner allows the librarian to generate and paste into a web page a form with which the user can elect to subscribe to the feed in an aggregator or subscribe to the feed via email.

Because both kinds of subscription go through feedburner, the librarian has then a means by which to measure usage of the feed. Even better, you can set up any number of feeds with a single Feedburner account, and track the use of each from a kind of central dashboard. One could even create a portal for one’s library which would allow users to subscribe to Tables of Contents updates via email alerts.

And someone is doing just that.

Hope Leman commented at Meredith Farkas’ Information Wants to be Free the she wanted “…to set up a page where clinicians could sign up for email alerts of as many journals as I can find RSS feeds to turn into subscribable email alerts…”

Hope and I talked a bit, and I mocked up a quick proof-of-concept to show that this would be possible and not horribly difficult.

Hope is now learning HTML, but she didn’t know any at the time- so she decided to build her portal with WordPress as her CMS, and the results are pretty neat! Hope and her colleagues at the Murray Memorial Library (Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center) are getting ready to unveil MedGrab, but said she wouldn’t mind if you took a peak now.

Here’s MedGrab’s front page:
Medgrab front page

Here’s a section of the Cardiology section:
Medgrab cardiology journal subscription forms

In exchange for allowing me to post about MedGrab, Hope asked that I mention the following:

  • Hope feels that that it all would have gone more smoothly if she had learned HTML before embarking on the Medgrab project and so could have avoided being locked into WordPress but that WordPress works well enough for a starter site
  • Hope notes that RSS feeds are not even offered on the Category pages though it is quite prominent, on the table of contents sign-up pages.
  • MedGrab is a group project, and Hope credits her colleague, Roger and her boss, Dorothy, as essential collaborators. She also asked that I mention her heavy use and appreciation of Qunu, her gratitude for Feedburner’s support staff (especially Matt Shobe), and her thanks to Medical RSS guru Frankie Dolan (of medworm.com and rss4medics.com).

I think its great that Hope and her colleagues worked out an inexpensive way to expand services for their library’s patrons this way- and I know she’s worked very hard at it.

If you’d like to contact Hope directly, she can be reached at lemanh[AT]proaxis[DOT]com.

7 thoughts on “Turning Feeds Into Emailed Alerts

  1. There were a few RSS to email solutions before Rmail. The reason I invented Rmail, was because I need a newsletter service and other solutions at the time simply didn’t work for me. In fact, most still don’t work today 🙂

  2. Hi, Randy. What an honor to e-meet the man who invented R-Mail. I use it all the time for email alerts of great blogs (like this one!). Thank you so much for providing the world with such a useful and easy to use tool. It has enabled me to learn about so many useful things that have hugely improved my performance in my job. You are a genius!

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  4. David, is there a service which sends not one email per RSS item, but digests? F.i. one mail every day or every week?

  5. Absolutely, Oliver.

    FeedBurner (which I use to allow readers to subscribe to my feed via email – see form on right sidebar) sends only daily digests.

    Squeet (owned by FeedBurner now, I believe) will create an email subscription form that, when the user enters his/her email address, brings him/her to a screen where he/she selects the frequency with which he/she would like to have updates. Options are “Live,” “Daily,” “Weekly,” or “Manual.”

    Hope that helps!

  6. Thanks again 🙂 we are working on several new features that will serve both users and publishers. Thanks for including us in your round up!

    – Greg

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