What Is an Aggregator?
A look at why some attorneys find them essential.
By Ronald Chichester and Lisa M. Angelo
Lawyers have been overlooking an important research tool—blog aggregators. Often, when an unfamiliar topic lands on our desks, lawyers turn to Google and secondary sources for guidance. Many of today’s secondary sources include blogs. Vast amounts of information are available in blogs that were written by lawyers, industry experts, and businesses. But, with so many blogs available, how do you filter relevant content? How do you search blogs efficiently, while continuing to refer back for content updates?
If you have subscribed to numerous blogs, websites, and newsletters in an effort to track topics of interest, you may have noticed that your email inbox has become chaotic. Worse yet, you rarely have time to sort and read the information provided in each of your subscriptions. Welcome to information overload.
Rather than succumb to the overload of information or otherwise waste precious time searching the internet, visiting each individual blog for an update, there is a convenient tool to aggregate the information and save you time. These tools are known as blog or RSS “aggregators.”
What Is a Blog Aggregator?
An aggregator, as the name suggests, is a software application that aggregates information specifically from blogs. Aggregator applications have several different names, such as news aggregator, feed reader, newsreader, RSS reader, or blog aggregator. The various names are essentially synonymous. All of the aggregators utilize a technology called Real Simple Syndication, or RSS. As the name implies, RSS syndicates content from websites (particularly blogs) such that the aggregator can obtain part or all of the syndicated content in an automated manner. For attorneys, blog aggregators are particularly useful for those with a niche specialty, or (more often) for general practice attorneys who have to handle widely disparate types of cases, with each case requiring some amount of legal research because they handle that topic so infrequently.
Desired Features in a Blog Aggregator
The three must-have features for blog aggregators are:
Extensive search functionality;
The ability to filter content; and
The ability to import/export lists of blog feeds.
Search capability is, after all, the main reason for using a blog aggregator. Attorneys can set up aggregators to retrieve content based on specific keywords, authors, publications, etc. Some aggregators will also permit you to retrieve content based on exclusive keywords, as opposed to inclusive keywords. Note that because you want to search for content with the aggregator, you need to be able to store that information on your PC. Some aggregators are preconfigured to destroy old blog postings after a period of time (say, six months). You’ll have to check your settings to enable longer time periods if you plan to refer back to a particular post in the future.
Content filtering is particularly useful if you want to glance at content during the day but don’t want to waste a lot of time. Usually the aggregator will allow for some type of filtering, such as showing only the unread postings. Filtering is one area where the various aggregators differ significantly.
Finally, you want to be able to make use of your aggregator quickly and easily, so automatic uploading of the blogs is a must. Some aggregators make this easier than others by providing import/export capabilities. Fortunately, there is a common method of loading syndicated content from multiple websites or blogs (multiple RSS feeds) into blog aggregators all at once. So long as the imported file is in Outline Processor Markup Language, or OPML, format, the aggregator should be able to read it. Simply download the OPML file and import it into your blog aggregator of choice. If your aggregator doesn’t support importing (and exporting) OPML files, then you shouldn’t be using that aggregator; find one with the import/export capability that adheres to common standards. An aggregator that cannot import/export OPML files is the legal equivalent of not being able to understand the Bluebook.
Common/Effective Aggregators for Windows,
Mac, Linux, and the Cloud
There are several online aggregators. The advantage is that you don’t have to install any software on your devices, and what you’ve viewed is the same on each device. The downside is that you must be online in order to see the content, and in many cases, you can’t store the content and thus search for it for extended periods of time—thus mitigating their utility for attorneys who want to refer back to the information. Of course, access to stored content may not be an issue if you are only using blogs to keep up with trends in particular topics or become familiar with a new topic.
Windows users have several choices. One is called RSSOwl. The good news is that RSSOwl is cross-platform, which is useful for those attorneys who switch between Windows, Mac, and Linux. RSSOwl also has a nifty search feature in that search criteria can be saved and run again later—essentially like its own RSS feed.
Mac users have fewer choices, but one of them is a real gem: Vienna, which is quite probably the best blog aggregator on any platform. It has all of the features that an attorney could want (e.g., easy-to-add-blog-feed and a decent search tool). Best yet, it is free to download and use. You can read more about it at its website, vienna-rss.com.
For Linux users, you have several very good options. Our favorite is Feedreader. Note, while Akregator is popular in the Linux community, it doesn’t let you search for words inside the feeds, so it really isn’t much use for attorneys. Feedreader is a great option if you already have some feeds setup online, but is more cumber-some to load new feeds from scratch. Feedreader will, fortunately, allow you to import feeds from OPML files.
Example Use of Aggregator
Your hypothetical client is interested in using blockchain technology in commercial transactions and wants to know if there are any legal requirements. You know nothing about blockchain and start your research by typing in “blockchain” to your favorite search engine, yielding a variety of results including news articles and blog posts.
You find a few sources for which you would like to consolidate the information, search with keywords, and use to stay up to date on blockchain. You copy the hyperlink to the sources and add them to your RSS aggregator, in this case Feedly. You click “Follow” and repeat for the other resources you found in the initial search.
RSS/blog aggregators can help attorneys make better use of their time by automatically filtering information available online and cutting down on some of the “information overload.” Using the right aggregator as a research tool, attorneys can focus on topics they actually care about and get direct access to the information they need to know. TBJ
This article, which was originally published in Circuits, has been edited and reprinted with permission.
RONALD CHICHESTER is a solo practitioner who specializes in all aspects of law that involve computers and digital net-works. He is a past chair of the State Bar of Texas Computer & Technology and Business Law sections, and is currently based in Frisco.
LISA M. ANGELO is a cyber liability attorney and certified information privacy manager. Her law practice is focused on advising clients on data privacy, cyber insurance, technology contracts, and other matters related to cyber and technology law.