The term “tipping point” refers to the concept that small changes will have little or no effect on a system until a critical mass is reached. Then a further small change "tips" the system and a large effect is observed.
This idea is very useful for explaining some of the trends that we have observed in the world of computing. The Internet itself, and then the World Wide Web and HTML were around for a long time before they reached a turning point and became ubiquitous.
We think that another internet technology – RSS - is about to reach that stage.
RSS – Really Simple Syndication – is an Internet content syndication format. Content syndication can make all or part of a web site’s content (or of any other application’s data) available for use by other sites, applications or services.
The syndicated content– or feed – consists of both the direct content itself, and meta data which is information about the content.
RSS are usually delivered over HTTP so they can be made available to any device with an Internet or intranet connection. This makes it very easy to develop RSS feeds for any applications with Web interfaces. A feed is in many respects just another web page.
RSS feeds are produced in XML (eXtended Mark up Language), however, which means that – unlike traditional web pages - they are difficult for people to read directly.
Programs called aggregators have been developed to add an additional layer of usability to RSS feeds.
Aggregators regularly check the range of feeds to which a
RSS Aggregators can rid you of the burden of checking through many different sites and systems in order to keep yourself up to date. This is the key benefit that RSS can bring to the Police.
The BBC publishes a wide variety of RSS feeds broken down by geography and area of interest.
The UK Politics feed for example can be found at:
A typical item from the feed containing a title, a description and a link that can be followed for more information is shown below:
<title>MP defends Kelly grilling</title>
<description>The Labour MP who suggested to Dr David Kelly he was the government's "fall guy" defends his questioning at the Hutton inquiry.</description>
Newsgator is an RSS aggregator that runs in Outlook. It will
periodically check all of your
Figure 1: Newsgator
The FeedDemon Aggregator gathers items in a Newspaper for easy reading.
Figure 2: Newsgator with Dispatch and Help Desk Feeds
Newsgator includes watches. A watch is a special channel that searches all incoming news items for specific keywords.
This feature is an early indicator of the potential power of ubiquitous RSS. RSS is valid XML. Different RSS feeds can easily be combined and manipulated.
A Utopian objective would be to have an RSS feed from each officer’s notebook.
The contents of a dispatch system may be considered as in some way analogous to the contents of a notebook. Coraider Services has written a Web browser interface for the ICAD dispatch system used by Surrey Police. The web page illustrated below can be used to build RSS Feeds that could be used to follow the progress of any unit, or in any area, or of any particular incident. (An example incident feed – based on test data – is shown in figure 2 above.)
Figure 3: ICAD RSS Builder
RSS feeds are often associated with Weblogs. Weblogs are online chronological journals that are used for a variety of personal and professional purposes. They are a hugely popular Internet phenomenon.
A Weblog could be a very useful tool for distributing information to the public and the media for ongoing investigations.
The Surrey Police Miller Dowler page on http://www.surrey.police.uk/news_milly.asp?artid=2157 looks very like a Weblog.
Associating an RSS feed with this page would enable journalists and interested members of the public to follow the case. The likelihood that local Webloggers would link back to the page (a practice called Blogrolling) would also increase the visibility of the information.
(Neighbourhood Watch web sites based on Web Log Technology could utilise RSS easily and cheaply to mirror information from the Police etc. to keep themselves up to date. Similarly it would be straightforward to track many Neighbourhood Watch schemes centrally by subscribing to their feeds.)
RSS supports an auto discovery mechanism that simplifies
<LINK rel="alternate" type="application/rss+xml" title="RSS" href="http://development.coraider.co.uk/RSSFeeds/IncidentRSS.asp">
This indicates that http://development.coraider.co.uk/RSSFeeds/IncidentRSS.asp is the RSS feed that corresponds to the page in question.
The Newsgator aggregator for example supports this feature by adding a button to the Internet Explorer toolbar.
Coraider Services has just delivered a quote to ACPO to deliver a number of enhancements to the Intranet that is made available to each force’s ACPO offices via the CJX. These enhancements will include the ability for authorised users to subscribe to feeds based on documents that require a response, urgent newsflashes etc.
The enhancement will also include the ability to
Figure 4: RSS Feeds on the ACPO Intranet (Test Data)
It is intended that the Virtual Bumble Bee system will grow
into a comprehensive
The poster that Surrey Police produced to support the Milly Dowler investigation says
Officers are also keen to find Milly's clothes and possessions:
It would be comparatively straightforward to provide an RSS feed that would notify appropriate officers if whenever a phone or a rucksack matching this description was found or seized.
Figure 5: Bumblebee in Bloglines
Bloglines is a free online RSS aggregator. The figure above shows an account that has been set up with feeds from the BBC, MSDN, Bumblebee and Bumblebee Auctions. A live demonstration will form part of this presentation.
RSS is a practical working technology not a prototype or a pipe dream. It offers an achievable base camp on the computer industry’s long march towards ubiquitous XML.
Aggregators are the key to deriving operational rewards from RSS, but organisations should shy away from developing their own aggregating software. Competition in the aggregator market, and perhaps the entry of the largest software companies, will provide cheap, innovative useful tools.
It would be prudent to add RSS feeds (and auto discovery) on an ongoing basis to all new software projects. The marginal costs will be very small.
Pilot projects should be undertaken to introduce the software and concepts to a range of staff.