Embarrassingly, I did not use them until earlier this week. Why do I say embarrassingly? Well I like to think of myself as someone who is interested in technology and gadgets, and somewhat of an early adopter depending on the item. I also can’t believe that I never paid attention to RSS feeds before. So what is RSS?
RSS is commonly referred to as “Really Simple Syndication”, and is a way for news agents, bloggers and the like to distribute information. It is probably best used for frequently updated information, but doesn’t need to be. Not all sites will have a feed, but you can easily find out by looking at your browser when you are logged on to a site.
If you look on the right hand side of the URL bar is an orange symbol that looks kind of like the WiFi symbol. This is the standard image for RSS.
Web feeds benefit both publishers and readers by letting the content syndicate automatically. This way I can check many sites for updates, without actually having to go to them. I can aggregate all interesting feeds into one place with software designed to interpret the feeds. I happen to use the RSS reader built in to Outlook, but there are many free readers available, including web versions like Google Reader. I’ll show you what I mean.
Above is a snapshot of the navigation pane of my Outlook window. Right now I have it set to read 12 RSS feeds from news sites, friends blogs, and some entertainment. (Side note, I actually first set this up in order to keep track of all the interesting seminars going on at work, then decided to extend that to other sites I am interested in.) Outlook will automatically sync with the RSS feed from each of these sites, approximately once per hour or whatever rate the publishers server limits it to. Then when there is an update, it will pop up next to the folder. Above, you can see that Kim has updated her blog since I last opened Outlook.
And if I click on her folder, the news feed opens in the main window, and you can see that she has updated with an unfortunate story of burst pipes. Oh the joys of home ownership.
The good news is that many news sites and popular blog sites like wordpress have RSS feeds already, you just click on the orange symbol and it will give you the address of the feed. Paste the feed into your favorite reader, and voila, no more manually checking each of those sites for new information. I can now scan each headline in a few seconds, and decide if the article is interesting or not. And if the article is something I want to read in another window, I just click on the link and am taken to the site. Most usefully, it reads my friends blogs, which makes it so I don’t have to remember to check them. And as an added bonus, my reader is right in Outlook, so it looks like I’m just reading my e-mail.
My RSS feed list will definitely continue to grow as I remember sites that I like to read, hopefully not to the point where there is too much to read though. I can’t wait to get used to my new favorite way to assemble information – and can’t believe it took me this long. Does anyone else use them? Do you have any suggestions or favorite readers?