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So what’s an RSS feed?

October 16, 2009 2 comments

With so much information on the web and everyone seeming to be busier and busier it’s helpful to know about some tools that can help you organise the information you’re interested in.  One of the ways to help manage information is to use RSS feeds, yet to many the term RSS is just a piece of techno babble!  So what is RSS?

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary.  It’s essentially a feed of information which may be a headline, a summary or full text of information published on the web.  Websites like BBC News, the Guardian, the BMJ, SIGN, blogs, video sharing sites and most academic journals now distribute their content via RSS feeds.   This is all good news because it means that we can subscribe to these RSS news feeds using an RSS newsreader. Whenever you see the RSS icon (shown here to the left) on a website or on the address bar in your web browser, this indicates that the site has an RSS feed that you can subscribe to.  If you subscribe to these feeds it means that you can retrieve all the latest information from the sites you’re interested in dynamically in one place rather than having to trudge from site to site to see if there’s any new content. Take a look at this video put together by Sarah Horrigan of Nottingham Trent University to get an overview of RSS.

There are different ways to subscribe to RSS feeds.  You can subscribe to them in your web browser, i.e. in Internet Explorer, Firefox, Flock, Safari etc.  This is fine but if you use different computers you might want to consider using a web-based news reader which you can access anytime you are on the web.  One option as outlined in Sarah’s video is Google Reader, another is Netvibes.  You can take a look at a Netvibes page that I’ve put together with some RSS feeds relating to some respiratory journals and organisations.  With Netvibes you can create your own personal pages of RSS feeds and also share pages publicly and embed images, and widgets for sites like Facebook, for searching sites like Google, PubMed etc.  The page I’ve linked to from this post includes a widget which allows you to search the BMJ (thanks to Anne Marie Cunningham at Cardiff for creating and sharing this).

I subscribe to well over 100 RSS feeds across a whole range of work and personal related interests.  Using an RSS reader saves me a lot of time, there’s no way I would have time to visit all these sites.  I check my reader and look at the headlines and can quite quickly see what looks interesting and what I want to take a closer look at.  Why not give RSS a try yourself and start start subscribing to some feeds from your favourite websites.  If you need any help to get started post a comment and I’ll follow up with you.

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