RSS 101: Get online articles delivered to you
Have you felt overwhelmed by the information thrown at you when opening your web browser to your home page or other favorite websites? Have you ever wondered how you could pare down what you see to only what you really care about? Worry no more! You can indeed raise your efficiency to a whole new level by consuming web information using Really Simple Syndication, or RSS.
What is RSS?
RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. It provides an easy way to gather and display information from varied and multiple sources, including news stories, updates to websites, business and stock statistics, and new posts to blogs.
You may have noticed the little orange RSS or XML icons inviting you to "syndicate this page" on some of the sites you visit regularly. Do these look familiar?
Why should I use RSS?
In short, RSS is a timesaver.
For example, let's say that you visit a number of sites (such as national news sites, industry sites, tech news sites, or other sites related to your job) several times daily. Rather than spending four or five minutes scanning each site looking for new information, you can subscribe to RSS feeds for those sites and the new articles will be delivered to you as they become available.
What are RSS feeds, and how do they work?
Think of RSS feeds as targeted headlines for web surfing. They are compiled, updated, and distributed in Extensible Markup Language (XML). Each feed contains a list of new articles from a site and includes a title, summary, and link to the full article for each item. So, if you're interested in reading a particular article that has just been posted to one of your favorite sites, you simply click the corresponding link.
To read these feeds, you need a tool called a feed reader or news aggregator. It maintains a list of the web feeds you syndicated, checks them at regular intervals for updates, and displays their contents in a readable format. All feed readers track what you've read previously and highlight new content for easy scanning.
What are the pros and cons?
As with any other technology, RSS has its detractors and its fans. Take a look at this table to get an overview of both the plusses and minuses of RSS.
RSS feeds are timely because subscribers get updates and breaking news as soon as they are available.
RSS feeds are cost effective because distribution and delivery costs are very low.
RSS works well with email. An email client is not required to view RSS feeds, but they can be received, viewed, and managed in your email client.
RSS helps you manage and organize content. Messages and articles can be archived, sorted, and categorized automatically.
RSS maintains privacy and anonymity. You fully control the subscription to and removal from RSS feeds. You don’t have to provide your email address or any other personal information when selecting the feeds you want to syndicate.
RSS feeds help you save time by scoping the content that you receive to your specific interests and ensuring that the information is always up to date.
RSS feeds provide no history, which means that, although you always get the newest information, you can easily miss an article of interest to you if you don’t check the feeds for a few days (when you’re on vacation, for example).
RSS feeds are a bandwidth waster because they automatically download RSS files (usually hourly) to check for updates and changes.
RSS feeds are complicated to set up. As people hear about RSS and understand its value, they also become disappointed by the fact that it is not as easy as surfing the web.
RSS content doesn’t lend itself to search. Many search engines include RSS feeds, but they struggle to identify which information is new and, therefore, greatly limit the value of search operations on this type of content.
RSS feeds usually only show an abridged version of the content, which can be cryptic and may require you to open your web browser to see the full article.
How do I get started?
Get a feed reader. There are two types:
Web-based: With this type of reader, you can check your feeds from any computer, which is very convenient but comes at a cost: limited functionality and speed. Most web browsers include a feed reader. Learn more about using RSS feeds in Internet Explorer.
Application-based: With this type of reader, you get a more polished and full-featured product, but it lacks mobility.
I use a web-based news aggregator, called NewsGator, because I use different computers throughout the day (desktop, laptop, and Tablet PC) and want to always see the most current information regardless of the computer I happen to be using. A wide variety of free RSS aggregators are available. Here’s a selection:
Windows news readers
These aggregators and RSS feed clients are not provided or supported by Microsoft. The aggregator features will vary between clients. Please contact the aggregator provider for technical support.
Subscribe to feeds. There is no single way that all websites let you know that you can syndicate their content. The most common method is the orange XML button: . Clicking the button will add that feed to your feed reader list and will help ensure that you receive updated notifications and contents from that site.
Read and manage the scoped information you receive. RSS feeds are great timesavers. They are not only technology but also a new communication medium. They enable you to customize the flow of information and control the content that you choose to read and share for work, for school, or just for fun.
How do I unsubscribe from a RSS feed?
To unsubscribe from a feed, click the Unsubscribe button in your RSS newsreader or just right-click the item or folder and, from the drop-down menu, select Delete.
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