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RSS stands for “Really Simple Syndication,” “Rich Site Summary,” or “Real-time Simple Syndication.” There are many versions of RSS. Currently the most popular are RSS 2.0 and Atom. Wikipedia has a detailed explanation.
Many organizations now publish time-sensitive information in RSS format (RSS “feeds”) which others can then “subscribe” to and read in one convenient place, rather than having to cruise from site to site to look for updates or subscribe to multiple e-mail notification systems. They use RSS to provide “news,” updates on changes to their web sites, notices of documents that are added to their collections, up-to-the minute weather information, and more.
For more ideas on how RSS can be useful, see "10 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do With RSS Feeds."
How can I tell if a site provides an RSS feed?
To determine if a site provides an RSS feed, look for a blue or orange RSS/XML button somewhere on the page. There may also be verbiage inviting you to “subscribe to our RSS news feed.”
Sometimes there will be a more specific button such as one of those below:
How can I get set up to read RSS feeds?
1. Select an aggregator
In order to subscribe to and read RSS files you will need “aggregator” software. There are numerous options (many free or low cost) including:
- Software that you download and install on your computer
- Web-based software
- Browser add-ons
- Server-side software
There are many places you can go for lists of possible aggregators. Below are a few:
Because web-based aggregators allow you to read your feeds from any computer, do not require you to download any software, and are relatively feature-rich, this guide focuses on web-based software.
Popular free web-based aggregators include:
2. Set up your account (for web-based aggregator)
Once you decide on a web-based aggregator you will need to set up an account (usually free). Look for the link to “sign up for an account,” “create an account,” “register,” etc.
3. Find RSS feeds that interest you
Once you have set up an account with a web-based aggregator, you are ready to start identifying and subscribing to RSS feeds. Some readers may also come with some feeds already installed. You can usually remove those that don’t interest you. There are many ways to find RSS feeds:
- Take a look at your favorite web sites, news sites and blogs, and determine if they have RSS feeds you could subscribe to.
- Some of the aggregators have built-in utilities for searching for RSS feeds.
- Some of the Library’s licensed databases may offer an option for you to subscribe to an RSS feed. For example, Ingenta and Project Muse allow you to set up a feed to many of their covered publications so that in your aggregator you will be able to see when a new issue is published and click on the link to view the table of contents, abstracts, and full text (if the Library subscribes to that journal). See this list of some of the Library’s databases that provide RSS feeds.
- Similarly, web sites of your favorite journals may now provide an RSS feed that you can subscribe to so you will know whenever a new issue is published and what that issue contains.
- The Library has compiled a list of some RSS feeds of special interest to military and government researchers.
- There are other search tools you can use to find RSS feeds, such as:
- Bloglines Search
- Icerocketblog search
- Yahoo'sBlog Directory
To subscribe to an RSS feed in your aggregator, when you see the RSS or other appropriate button or link, right click on it and select “copy shortcut” or “copy link.” (Or you can left click on the button/link and copy the URL in the browser address bar after you do so). Then go to your aggregator, select the function to add a new feed, and paste the link in the space provided. The aggregator will then recognize this as a feed that you want to subscribe to.
Some aggregators provide the ability to organize your feeds into categories, which will be helpful should you subscribe to a lot of them.
Enjoy staying current by checking your aggregator frequently!
Want to read more about RSS? Here are a few good articles/sites:
(all links checked and updated on 2009.03.26)