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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A guide to RSS feeds

I've talked about RSS before here and here, but there might still be a bit of confusion about its value to you.  I'm hoping this definitive guide will help end the confusion.

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication.  A definition of 'syndication' is: Selling (an article or cartoon) for publication in many magazines or newspapers at the same time.  However, in this case it's not actually selling anything.  It's providing information instead, for free.  RSS provides you with the information of your choice, all at the same time, from multiple websites.  Whenever they update their sites, that update is delivered to you by RSS.

In order to receive those updates, you need an RSS Reader.  There are plenty of them out there, and they're often called 'newsreaders' or 'aggregators'.  Most RSS Readers, or aggregators, come in the form of a free program that you download onto your computer. 

You use these programs to subscribe to the RSS feeds of the websites you're interested in, and instead of going to those websites to see IF they've updated it recently, all their updates will automatically be sent to you, saving you the time and hassle of visiting the sites yourself.

Some of the most popular RSS Readers are:
There's also BlogLines for all web browsers.  Instead of using a program on your computer, this allows you to access your RSS feeds on any computer.

This list does not show all of the RSS readers available.  You might want to do some searching to see if there's something out there that you prefer over what I've listed above.

RSS Feeds deliver updates to you.  These can be in the form of either headlines, headlines and a snippet of content, or headlines and all of the content.  It depends on how the website's RSS delivery has been set up. 

RSS-enabled websites will have an address for their RSS feed.  You can access this address by clicking on their RSS button or link, and then copying the URL in your browser's address bar into your favourite RSS reader.  Some RSS readers will 'auto discover' the RSS feeds on sites you browse, so you don't need to do any cutting and pasting.  The documentation for your favourite RSS reader will give you the relevent information.

How does it help?  Very good question.  As I mentioned above, subscribing to RSS feeds allows you to receive immediate notification of website updates, as soon as they're updated.  You get the information much faster than if you had to browse for it yourself, and you also get the updates from many sites via the one RSS reader.  The greatest benefit is the time-saving aspect of it. 

Use RSS to help your web searches.  There are websites that will allow you to search for a particular topic, and you can then subscribe to the RSS feed of that search, allowing you to receive immediate updates when new information relating to a topic of interest is published, from whatever source.

If you would like to subscribe to this site and receive further updates via RSS, click on Subscribe at the top of this website. It will present you with the option of subscribing to varous web-based RSS readers of your choice.

If you would like assistance in using RSS feeds for yourself, please contact me.  I'd be only too happy to help out.

Posted on 1/25/2006 03:19:00 PM Backlinks

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Blogger Thomas Buist said...

RSS Feeds are great. They give people the information they want when they need it.

However, I don't find them very usefull outside the scope of blogs. For general websites, even if they are RSS Enabled, I find they just don't do the job.

I won't go into more depth, here... but if you take a look on my blog you can find more.

Sorry for the shameless plugging, Alan. Had to be done.

1/26/2006 12:37:00 AM  
Blogger Alan Howard said...

I find use in the following ways:
- keep updated on my favourite or interesting blogs
- keep updated on new entries for my favourite search topics

Naturally, there are still plenty of websites out there that aren't enabled for RSS, and so you're going to have to manually visit them. But for those sites that are RSS-enabled, I can't see why you would choose not to take advantage of the ease of use that RSS allows.

1/26/2006 09:05:00 AM  
Blogger eduard said...

I've been using RSS for a while and I agree it's a technology that can save you a lot of time. When I first started I only had a couple of sites I was monitoring through RSS. However, after a few months the number of RSS-friendly sites that I was monitoring expanded and it became somewhat time consuming. It was still much faster to scan the new RSS entries in my reader than actually going to the sites, but I realized that as I added more RSS feeds to my reader, I was spending more and more time scanning the new posts in order to find what I was interested in.

So I decided to write a program that would do this for me and notify me (via SMS or email) with the post that I was interested in. My main concern was to make the
application as flexible as possible. I wanted to be able to control the flow of the RSS data. For example, I wanted to only receive results (called alerts) if a new RSS post contained certain keywords/phrases and only between 8AM and 10PM. This filtering mechanism was very important to prevent information overload. I only wanted updates for "important" posts, not every single update. Now, the computer does the scanning and I only read what is important to me.

I developed the application for my own use, but I have expanded it for the public. I would appreciate if you could check out zaptxt.com and let me know what you think. We are in beta version now and feedback is always appreciated.


1/29/2006 05:44:00 AM  
Blogger Alan Howard said...

Hi Eduard. Thanks for the comments. I wish you all the best with your new venture, I hope it takes off for you.

1/30/2006 12:27:00 PM  

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