The technology exists to help you manage and organize today's mountains of information.
Nearly every day we hear about a newspaper or periodical having financial troubles. What's happening isn't a decline in the amount of news or its importance, but a revolution in how information is being disseminated. Keeping up with information, whether within our industry or in general, has simultaneously become easier (because of the increased number of sources) and more difficult (which one or two or 100 or 200 sources should you use?).
So let's take a look at the news, and at ways that you can manage it to fit your needs.
Really Simple Syndication is the Web's delivery service. Newspapers, blogs, hotels, meeting organizations — anyone — can create a news feed on their Web site to which individuals can subscribe. If you want a great, quick tutorial about RSS, check out a Web site called Common Craft which has created short videos to help people understand RSS. How do you know that a site has an RSS feed? If you see this logo in the URL or anywhere on the Web page, you know there's a subscription waiting to happen.
To see RSS in action, look no further than the most prolific news site in existence. Google News searches more than 25,000 news sites and posts the headlines in a format that is updated continuously. Plus, Google News is customizable and searchable.
While you're on the Google news site, click on the News Alerts link on the left side of the Google News page. This feature allows you to create an alert (sent to your e-mail or to your own RSS reader — more on that in a second) for any search terms you would like.
Now about collecting all this cool information: You will be best served using an RSS reader to bring this information together. There are hundreds (probably thousands) of options, but to keep it simple, let's talk about iGoogle, one of Google's RSS readers. You'll need to establish a Gmail account, but once you do, you can take all the feeds to which you are subscribing and create your own home page to receive them. If you're confused, then definitely check out the video mentioned earlier by Common Craft. They explain this process in a simple, straightforward manner.
If you want your news to look like a newspaper or magazine, there's a cool tool for you named Tabbloid. Set up an account (it's free), select your favorite feeds, and every day, you'll receive a PDF file with your feeds in a personalized format that looks just like a magazine. Pretty slick. If your religious organization creates a feed (and it should) or even has a few blogs, how about creating one for your organization's news, and then letting your members link to it and download it from your Web site?
If you tend to be a bit geekier, check out Amazon's Kindle. If you're still a stranger to Kindle, you should know that you can use a service such as Kindlefeeder to combine your favorite feeds and have them sent to your Kindle in an easy-to-read format.
Any discussion about the Web wouldn't be complete without a Web 2.0 tool to consider. The leader in this area is Digg. All the stories on Digg are posted and voted on (by having people “Digg” them) by the community. While you might not get the stories that you would see on the first page of a traditional paper, you'll see how the community is driving the important stories.
James Spellos, CMP, is the founder and president of Meeting U., a New York-based company that provides training and consulting to meeting professionals. He also is a frequent speaker on technology at meetings industry conferences. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.