Many of the services we’ll look at in this section will include references to RSS. If you’ve not really used RSS feeds before, have never heard of RSS, or have used them, but would like a bit more information, this page is for you.
RSS stands for “Really Simple Syndication” and it is an XML file format for delivering regularly updated information over the web. You will also find RSS referred to as “web feeds” or just “feeds”. You may have seen one of these icons whenever you’ve surfed the web:
So, what does RSS actually do? Well, just think about all those websites you visit every day. It can take a lot of time to visit them. Now imagine if you could visit all those web pages in just one place and all at the same time… without having to search for new information on the page you’ve already seen or read before… and without having to consume a lot of time visiting each site individually. Would that be valuable to you? Well, it’s available through RSS.
If any of your favourite websites publish 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 RSS is free. If you’re feeling brave, and would like to have a look at what an RSS file looks like, click here. It looks like a bunch of meaningless code, but you shouldn’t ever have to look at this code (unless you want to), because that’s what RSS aggregators do.
What are RSS aggregators?
RSS aggregators are applications that read RSS feeds. An aggregator will take an RSS feed and convert all the coding into something readable. It will have a 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 that to you.
Aggregators come in a few different flavours:
- Desktop: these are software applications that require downloading and installation on a computer.
- Web-based: online aggregators live on the web and require users to set up a username and password to access them. These are very popular. To access a web-based aggregator, you go to the site, login, and read your feeds online. The advantage of web-based aggregators is that you can access them from multiple computers (home, work, Internet cafe, etc.). A popular web-based aggregator is Feedly.
- Browser-based: the latest versions of many browsers (like Firefox and Internet Explorer) include the ability to subscribe to and read RSS feeds within the browser.
So, how does RSS work, exactly?
If a website publishes a feed, it is usually indicated on the site in at least one of the following ways:
- a hyperlinked orange icon
- a link called “RSS” or “XML” or “Subscribe” (or some variation thereof).
You can add a feed to your aggregator even when a website doesn’t publish a feed.
How do I find feeds?
There are search engines and subject directories devoted to RSS feeds that allow you to do a keyword search and bring up results with easy-to-grab links to RSS feeds that you can subscribe to.
Or by serendipity: chances are, you probably won’t remember how you found most of the feeds that end up in your aggregator because most of your subscriptions will probably result from just generally surfing the web and stumbling on a website you really like. When you’re on a website and you’re wondering if they publish an RSS feed, remember to look for the orange RSS icons or for a link labeled “RSS”, “XML” or “Subscribe”.