So you keep seeing this funny little orange button dotted around websites together with phrases like “RSS” and “Feed”, but haven’t got a clue what it’s all about. Well fear no more, help is on hand…
Since its creation, the internet has expanded at an alarming rate, providing masses of information on any subject imaginable. There is now so much information available that it is difficult to collate and digest everything that you would like to. This is where a useful implementation of an existing internet technology has been developed, RSS or Really Simple Syndication, to make this process a little more manageable.
You probably have a collection of favourite websites that you frequently like to visit, keeping up to date with the latest news. RSS can automate this for you, by constantly monitoring your favourite websites and notifying you whenever a new article is available. You will get your latest news, direct to your desktop, as soon as it’s available, instead of having to continuously trawl through a list of websites. RSS is a bit like an electronic paperboy, automatically delivering news to your computer.
Feeding Your Information Habit
Websites offering this service are becoming increasingly popular, with one excellent example being the BBC news website. A website offering this service is said to offer an RSS feed or news feed. News feeds (or more commonly just called feeds) on such web pages are usually denoted by a small orange button as above. Older version of this button sometimes had RSS in white writing, although just to confuse things, the button sometimes had XML instead, and was blue!
Reading the News
To make use of RSS you will need to install special newsreader software on your computer. This software may run as a stand alone program, or may integrate with your current web browser or e-mail program.
If you try viewing an RSS news feed in a standard web browser, you may get unexpected results, often resembling computer code, as these links are designed to be used with special news reader applications as described above and not with web browsers.
Once you have installed a newsreader, you need to choose news feeds that you wish to subscribe to. This may vary depending on which newsreader you choose, but generally requires visiting your favourite website and clicking on the orange news feed button on the web page. Your newsreader software should then register this as one of your favourite news feeds and begin monitoring the feed for you.
RSS and Podcasting
RSS feeds are also the key technology powering the delivery of podcasts, allowing you to be alerted when a new podcast episode is available with a link to the podcast’s media file; typically an MP3 file.
Subscribing to News
You can subscribe to RSS feeds in a number of ways, including the following:
- Drag the orange RSS button into your News Reader
- Drag the URL of the RSS feed into your News Reader
- Cut and paste the URL of the RSS feed into your News Reader
If you’re appetite has been suitably whetted, and you fancy giving this new technology a shot, then the following list of different flavours of news reader should give you a good starting point: