Archive for August 30th, 2005

Why is the RSS/OPML revolution poised to take off in universities now?

Dave Winer just wrote a nice email note in response to my post on OPML at Harvard:

Jim, that’s why I went to Harvard two years ago, to bootstrap what you’re booting up now. Good work!

Why is now the time for the Really Simple knowlege Syndication revolution to take off in universities?  I have three suggestions:

1. The form of initial participation in OPML matches how academics and researchers work. 

Academics in particular continually make and share lists and outlines, e.g. annotated bibliographies, course lists, syllabus, citation indexes, research sites, research data–so I think lists are an easier starting point for participation than blogs, at least for most.

News reporters write daily posts, and naturally see blogging as valuable.  Academics make, organize, append, share, and discuss lists and outlines.  Academics quickly see the value in OPML outlines and OPML outline editors.

2.  The landscape has been prepared by widespread diffusion of open RSS and the RSS-ethos of making information freely available in open files on the web.


The RSS ecosystem had to follow the laws of natural succession.  Grasslands and nitrogen-fixing plants had to be established before trees could take root and proliferate.  


OPML on top of global adoption of RSS and podcasting/rich media enclosures makes online outlines vastly more valuable than their offlline siblings. Online I can point an amazing array of sources.


I can pull together a point of view with supporting exhibits, and publish the entire package to the web as a living, constantly updated knowledge environment. 


Holy smoke! As an academic I can use OPML to make a personalized online work environment for my daily research and writing.  I can make my personal work environment available to colleagues and students.  In addition, I can search, view, and gather information from complementary work environments created and used by others.  For example see John Palfrey’s OPML outline on Internet Law.


These sources may be available in many different formats, they can be hosted anywhere in the world that has web access, they can be in any language, and they can be published by individuals as well as institutions.


Source formats that can be easily incorported into an OPML outline include (a) documents in open folders identified by URL and file name, in PDF, Word, HTML, RSS, OPML, or Excell file format, (b) HTML pages and web sites, (c) RSS files from blogs/news sources as well as from other types of sources outputing RSS–such as weather data, historical timelines, etc., (d) RSS files with enclosures of video, audio, and images, often set up as podcasts (e) direct pointers from OPML to video, audio, and images and other media, (f) tags in Flickr and similar categorization and file-sharing services, (g) Wikis such as WikiPedia, (h) OPML outlines published by colleagues and others. 

3.  Academics now have powerful and easy-to-use tools that enable them to compose, edit, borrow and share, and publish OPML, as well as search for it,  study it, and integrate new OPML content into existing outlines and online work environments, which in turn generate more OPML.

August 30th, 2005

OPML at Harvard: Really Simple Knowledge Sharing is happening today

Fun, check this out

The future is already here.  Check out this active directory search result on

The search was for the term internet law, with no quotation marks, and returned the following URI:*&cp=0

What is this? It is an OPML outline of an annotated bibliography.  Because the outline is in OPML it can be carried into other OPML environments and edited, integrated, shared, tagged, etc.  Try it.  Take this OPML list into Dave’s OPML editor, and check out your ability to modify it.

Where did this come from?

It came from a particular community of use at Harvard that is developing an outline-based way to share academic knowledge, but that was a closed island of information until it began outputing OPML a few days ago. 

Now it has a connection to the world.  Or rather, now it has openned up to the OPML community, and we can connect to it’s data, suck it into our systems, play with it and share it. Bravo!

FYI, here is a link to the most popular H2O playlists, to give you an example of what people have been doing

The work is quite interesting. It includes material from a wide range of contributors, on many topics. For example, it includes course descriptions the MIT Open Courseware project, for example.  (Unfortunately the Open Courseware project has not yet adopted OPML output, but that won’t take long once they get the message..)

Technically, adding OPML output to the site was easy to do.

The rest is history.  As soon as started picking up the files, the knowledge based in this site became instantly available to the OPML community.  And because the work is in the OPML format, it is easily tagged, mixed, extended, shared, etc. 

In one specific case an “H2O Playlist”–a knowledge sharing outline aka playlist–was created at a site at Harvard by John Palfrey.

Here is the H2O display of this playlist:

For comparison, the OPMLsearch active directory version is here.

What will they think of next?

Now, think of all the other communities of practice and repositories of knowledge that can be brought together in this simple manner.

The OPML is created as a byproduct of other activities and systems, in the background. 

It is so easy and inexpensive to output OPML that the development and support requirements can be justified without knowing in advance how the OPML will be used. 

And the beauty of OPML is that someone somewhere will start working right away on how to do something creative with your OPML output.

Personal reading lists..

Curriculum and reading lists, for example, from other universities..

Library card catalogues..


August 30th, 2005


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