#7 RSS

Two weeks ago we looked at blogs, and since most of you have already set up your own blogs, you might have encountered the term “RSS”. Or perhaps you’ve seen one of these icons during your web travels:

Google Reader or Homepage


Well, what are they and what will they do for you?

This week is all about demystifying RSS! Read on for an introduction to the technology, some ideas on how you can use it, a few links to RSS search engines and directories, an explanation of this week’s activities, and finally some optional readings for those who’d like to explore a little further!

What is RSS?
RSS stands for “Really Simple Syndication” It uses a file format called XML and allows you to be notified when content on a website has been updated. You will also find RSS referred to as “web feeds” or just “feeds”. A good way to understand RSS feeds is to think about them as magazine subscriptions: rather than having to frequently visit the newsstand to check for a new issue of your favorite magazine, you can just subscribe to it and sit back & wait for the new issues to come to you. If your favorite website publishes an RSS feed, you don’t have to keep visiting it to find fresh content; you can just subscribe to the RSS feed and wait for that fresh content to come to you! And, unlike magazine subscriptions, RSS is free!

What are RSS aggregators?
RSS aggregators (also known as
RSS readers, feed aggregators, or feed readers) are applications that read RSS feeds. An aggregator will take an RSS feed and convert it into something that is readable, with a defined title, formatting, and hypertext links that you can click on. The other important feature of an aggregator is the built-in update function that checks the feeds you’ve subscribed to for fresh, new content. If new content is found, your aggregator delivers it to you.

Aggregators come in a few different flavors:

  • Desktop: these are software applications that required downloading and installation on a computer. An example is FeedReader. These are not recommended if you don’t always use the same computer, can’t install programs on your computer, or are behind security firewalls.
  • Web-based: online aggregators live on the web and require users to go to a site and set up a username and password. You return to the site and login to read your feeds. The advantage of web-based aggregators is that you can get access to them from multiple computers (home, work, service desks, etc.). Two popular web-based aggregators are Bloglines and Google Reader.
  • Browser-based: the latest versions of many browsers (like Firefox and Internet Explorer 7) include the ability to subscribe to and read RSS feeds right in the browser. Firefox also has a handy extension called Sage.


  • RSS in Plain English (3:50) This video by Common Craft is a nice, quick introduction to the why and how of RSS feeds, and makes the whole process seem less daunting.


1. Follow these exercises to set up your own, personalized RSS feed reader. Look at some different RSS feed aggregators and learn about the difference between them: Bloglines, Google Reader, FeedReader, and Sage.

2. Create a free “RSS aggregator” account from any one of them.
Here are some instructions, should you need them:

3. Subscribe to at least 5 feeds. You might subscribe to your favorite blogs from the Participant Blogs page. Or check your local newspaper and discover if they have an RSS feed you can subscribe to.

4. Create a post in your blog about this exercise. Don’t know what to blog about? Think about these questions: What do you like about RSS and newsreaders? How do you think you might be able to use this technology in your library or personal life? How can libraries use RSS or take advantage of this new technology?


9 responses to “

  1. An excellent use for your feed reader in the immediate sense is to set up all of the 23 Things participant blogs in it. See how much time it save you and how much easier it makes keeping track of every one.

  2. I finally fiugred out how easy it is to do this with the RSS button and Internet Explorer. Now my worry is how to unsubscribe to the other things and places I signed up for. Is the internet just big enough to handle all earnest but rejected projects? Do we just let things dangle out there forever? or is there some polite way to say excuse me I don’t need this anymore?

  3. This was a snap to do using Google reader since I already have a gmail account – I could quickly add feeds and also delete them with ease if I made a mistake in my choices. I like the fact that I can share my feeds with others, too and make comments – email, tag, and organize feeds into folders! This is a great alternative to bookmarking everything!

  4. I’m glad to know what RSS is and I might look at it once in a while, but I guess I don’t have as much time as other people because I don’t want to sit in front of the computer and look at this stuff every day. Sorry

  5. I have been subscribing to all sorts of RSS feeds my favorite is Deborah Sloane’s http://www.thepicnic-basket.com/ check it out.

  6. You can do a lot more than just use RSS to collect feeds. You can use the feeds or create your own feed and implement the RSS code inside a course management system and communicate with students. I even post to a blog via phone and my students inside Blackboard hear what I have to say without going to my blog.
    I would not say no to any technology, esp. Web 2.0 tools as they can lead to so many other things. They are collaborative and communicative, and can facilitate sharing information.

  7. I tried using RSS but felt that in reality they were just duplicating my bookmarks and for me bookmarking a page was the easier and simpler way to go. I simply check them every morning (sort of like running down a check list) looking at what I want at that particular time. For example, I have several newspapers bookmarked and some days I really want to look at the news in detail and look at most of them, but more often than not I don’t want to see the news at all so I skip those and go right to the weather. It’s also simple to bookmark a particular section of a paper – so I can open up Books at the NYT without having to look at all their “news”. I kept the RSS feeds for about three months and then just got rid of them. It seemed to me that RSS was more technology for technology’s sake – sort of like buying a fancy dicing machine when I had a really good knife already.

  8. I agree with the last post. It just seems to take up time during the day, when I already have these websites listed in my favorites. I had a hard time coming up with websites to add! I will keep it for the 23 weeks, but I do not intend on the rss being my source

  9. The second link in Resources apparently doesn’t work any more.

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