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:
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?