Last year, Jim Clifford and I received funding from the Network in Canadian History and Environment to develop an iOS mobile application to facilitate the dissemination of environmental history news and other online content. With more researchers and educators using smartphones and other mobile internet devices to connect with one another, we thought it was important to try and get some of the great online content from NiCHE and other environmental history sources on to those small screens. Our goal was to produce a simple mobile application that brings together as much online environmental history content as possible into one place.
The environmental history research community has been particularly active online. In the last few years, we have seen a flurry of activity from online networks to podcasts to virtual exhibits to web video documentaries to blogs. In fact, there is so much online environmental history content out there, it can be a little daunting to try to keep up. For instance, did you know that this year’s NiCHE New Scholars virtual conference is producing a stunning series of short video documentaries? Have you read Colin Tyner’s blog about his research in Japanese environmental history? Are you following William Cronon on Twitter? Some environmental historians have adopted the #envhist hashtag on Twitter to try to keep track of everything that is out there, but it is a big task.
This is where we hope Environmental History Mobile will have the most impact. By piping in as much content into the application as possible, EH Mobile could be the one place to look for everything from ASEH conference announcements to news about the latest issue of Environment and History to new episodes of EHTV. It could be a new way for scholars to disseminate research findings, share new ideas, and stay connected to the broader community, like a journal that updates every day.
The key, however, to this project has been RSS, really simple syndication. RSS, as many readers will know, is a technology that allows users to subscribe to a web feed in a reader program, like Google Reader, in order to easily access updated web content. This website, for instance, offers an RSS feed, usually noted with a small orange icon. While RSS might be ubiquitous on the internet, it is not yet everywhere when it comes to academic content. That, however, is thankfully changing. Syndicated web content already changed the way most internet users consume news and information on a daily basis years ago, but it is only beginning to shape scholarly research and communication. As scholarly publishing slowly moves online, it will likely follow the primary online distribution channels that were established many years prior, including RSS. As such, journals like Environmental History now offer RSS feeds with information on new articles, including abstracts. Finally, Bill Turkel no longer needs to scrape the Environmental History journal website and build his own RSS feed.
RSS allows us to gather key sources for online environmental history content for our mobile application. Environmental History Mobile will offer users more than just an RSS reader. It will be a source for curated online environmental history content, including news, announcements, blogs, podcasts, and web video. In order to push that content to the app, RSS feeds are essential. As we move into the final months of this project, we’re looking for as many environmental history RSS feeds as possible. If you write an environmental history blog or web project and you would like your feed included in the Environmental Hisotry Mobile application project, please post a comment below or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.