RSS to Newsletter Maker – A pitch to the Social Innovation Camp

[Summary: looking for a tool that will make it easy to take Web 2.0 information sharing into the physical world of flyers, leaflets and posters…]

Newsletter Maker

It was a conversation with Espen Berg from the U8 Global Student Partnership for Development this weekend that finally convinced me to get around to pulling together various thoughts I've been thinking lately about the need for a tool that bridges the Web 2.0 <–> Paper 1.0 divide. Espen was telling me about work he is exploring with a number of others, seeking to make Web 2.0 accessible in low-bandwidth environments – realising that many of the benefits of the information revolution (2.0) are not readily available to a large proportion of the worlds population. Whilst many of those people lacking access are in developing nations – a lot are also right here in Leicester, Social Innovation Camp Logoand in cities across the UK – and one the best ways to build at least a temporary bridge across the digital divide seems to me to be with a printer and a bit of paper.

So I've just pitched the idea below into the Social Innovation Camp to see where it could go…


A tool to take web snippets, RSS feeds, social bookmarks and other online media and to easily assemble these in printable leaflet, flyer and poster formats. Making online information available in a non-digital format ready for copying, faxing, posting, sticking up on a notice board, and generally sharing amongst those who prefer to/can only recieve information offline.

Something like a cross between MS Publisher and NetVibes for print, it would need to handle:

  • Collecting snippets from across the web;
  • Agregating and allowing selections to be made from RSS feeds;
  • Editing & formatting of content to make it coherent when on paper and you can't follow the links;
  • Layout and preparation for printing of information;

Ideally such a tool would also allow templates newsletters / posters / flyers to be shared and worked on collaboratively – with the capacity for creating one-off publications, and regular publications, which would auto-update on the basis of RSS feeds etc.

What social need does it address?

The digital divide. (And the 'social media divide'). Whilst the web has made it easier than ever to share information, that sharing is only accessible to a limited number of people.

Creating a bridge between the online and offline worlds can make sure information shared through social media channels is:

a) Available to those without access to the technology;

b) Available to those with access, but who are not yet comfortable using social media technologies;

At present, a lot of people are missing out on a lot of information – and a lot of the potential of information sharing is being lost – because the sharing is taking place in online spaces that are not accessible to everyone.

What’s new about it?

It aims to make publishing on paper move able to move at least somewhere closer to the speed of Web 2.0. Initiatives on bridging the digital divide have tended to focus on bringing people to the technology so that they can access information and services. This looks to make it easy to take the information directly to people in formats and spaces that are accessible to them.

What inspired you?

Realising the amount of information I have at my fingertips is not accessible to many of those I'm working with, meeting with & campaigning with on a day to day basis. Realising its information they could really do with having access to. Realising that if they had access to the information, they could join in many more conversations and I could learn a lot from them. And realising that asking them to learn to use social media spaces is not the only solution.

Image based upon IMG_1435 by vovchychko under Creative Commons Licence.

10 thoughts on “RSS to Newsletter Maker – A pitch to the Social Innovation Camp”

  1. nice idea this.

    The safari browser has a cool new feature that allows you to take a ‘clip’ from any web page – you select the part of the page you want to keep updated on and it pastes that selection into the mac dashboard and its updated ‘live’ – so you can have a collection of just the most relevant parts of certain websites.

    What you can’t do (that I know of) is then print these off – but its a good model and allows more flexibility than relying on RSS feeds which don’t always give you the actual info you want (depending on how they’ve been set up (if at all!))

    I guess the simpler option is something along the lines of igoogle/netvibes and perhaps having something that people can set up but print off from their browser.

    Having said that this still wouldn’t be that simple for complete technophobes and I assume thats who you’re aiming?! – maybe you should set up a ‘Speaking Web’ service where people phone up and get read a load of RSS feeds (for about £1.50 a minute) 😉

  2. I’ll have to take a look at that on Safari… (seem to be realising I’m going to need to invest in a Mac sometime soon…)

    What I’d love to see is something that makes it easy to create a well formatted print-out as well. Whereas lots of equally sized boxed of links works well on screen – on paper the ‘Newspaper’ style format of large ‘headline’ stories, and smaller snippets would, I think, work best.

  3. ha ha – go to mac never look back!! (trying hard not to do the annoying mac user thing now!)

    Yep the print out is key – also the option to send a formatted email would be really useful too – kind of like a personalised email with daily/weekly headlines that could be printed off

  4. hey tim, thanks for posting the idea to social innovation camp.

    it feels like a long time since i’ve thought about paper 🙂 but your final point hits home i.e.
    “…asking them to learn to use social media spaces is not the only solution.”

    i remember that the indymedia london collective used to print newspaper of the website’s feature stories, to hand out on the streets.

    and then there’s the use-case of intermediaries – when i created a web project called Multikulti, with multilingual advice for refugees, we knew that a lot of time advice workers would be printing it off to give to clients…


  5. Hey Dan

    Thanks for the input 🙂

    Just had a look at MultiKulti – what a fantastic tool…

    Gets me thinking about the importance of community translation of the social web as well…


  6. am a bit confused about what MultiKulti does? I can see theres some information in different languages but I think some of the pages explaining what it actually is are down at the mo?

  7. think I get it now – was confused because its easy enough to set up a multilingual site now (providing you can find the translators!)

    I see the relevance though with the newsletter idea – that people could print them off in various languages & so the rss-newsletter thing would also need to be multilingual.

    The MultiKulti site hasn’t got rss though which is something to consider with the mac widget thing which doesn’t need rss – I’ve no idea how it works but if was possible to replicate getting information from sites without relying on rss alone it would be much more useful/flexible

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