Thing 8: RSS Feeds

What are RSS feeds?
RSS (Rich Site Summary – often called Really Simple Syndication) is a web feed format that provides the full text of web content together with links to the original source.

Why use them?
RSS feeds save you time and energy by bringing together articles and information and allowing you to read them in one place – the information comes to you! Many websites and blogs allow you to set up RSS feeds for their content. RSS feeds are also commonly available from databases which allow you to subscribe to feeds for journal articles on a specific topic. In this way you can be alerted whenever new content is added to your favourite websites or when a new issue of an e-journal is published.

RSS feeds are also useful if you run your own website. We’ve provided a link on this blog, for example, to an RSS feed that lets you subscribe to our content.

To set up RSS feeds, you need to sign up to a feed reader or aggregator – software that checks RSS feeds and displays updated content. There are many available. Free web-based readers, e.g. Google Reader, let you check RSS feeds from any computer whereas downloadable desktop clients, e.g. FeedDemon, let you store them on your own computer. You are free to choose your own, but for this post we’ll focus on Google Reader as it’s one of the most common.

Once you’ve logged in, you’ll see your Reader homepage. Down the left-hand side is a navigation panel, and on the right you’ll see the main section, where the content will appear. Google has probably displayed some posts to help you get started.

Google Reader page

Google Reader home

Now that you have a Reader account, try subscribing to the RSS feed for this blog:

  • In the blog’s sidebar (on the righthand side), you’ll see the heading ‘Subscribe by RSS’. Click on the icon below.
  • You should be taken to a page or a box with a few options; select ‘Google Reader’.
  • You will be taken into your Google Reader account. You may have to click ‘Subscribe’ again. Once you’ve subscribed, you’ll see 23 Things for Research under the Subscriptions heading. In the main section of the page you will see the latest update from the blog. To view previous updates scroll down the main section.

Most blogs and many websites will allow you to subscribe via RSS, even if they don’t have a specific button or link for it. Many web browsers will offer a subscribe button up in the address bar or the bookmarks menu. If you don’t see a subscription link, copy and paste the feed’s URL into the ‘Subscribe’ box in your Reader. See Google’s help page for more info on subscribing.

You should aim to subscribe to at least five other feeds. You may want to add some of the other 23 Things bloggers, or perhaps your favourite news blog or site.

Exploring further

  • Explore tools that allow you manage subscriptions. In Google Reader, there are options at the top and bottom of each item that allow you to star, share or tag the item. You can also use the ‘Manage Subscriptions’ option (find it by clicking the little arrow to the right of the Subscriptions list in the left-hand column) to categorize your feeds with folders. Managing your folders can be particularly helpful if you subscribe to a large number of feeds.
  • Add an extension to your browser to make subscribing to feeds even easier. Try this one for Chrome, this one for Firefox, and this one for Internet Explorer.

Blog post
Do you view RSS feeds as a useful tool in keeping up to date? Do you think you will use them in future? Tag your post ‘Thing 8’.

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