All About RSS
RSS has been around for a while but, like the internet itself, has
taken a while to catch peoples' attention. With RSS you can find out
when your favourite web sites have been updated or when your
favourite web logs have a new blog, without having to visit them.
RSS is taking the web by storm. This article explains what RSS does,
how it works, and what you need to do to benefit from it.
What is RSS?
I want my visitors to know when I have published something new on my
web site. Perhaps there's a new tutorial or article, or a new eBook
might be available. I used to do this with an email newsletter but
this was unsatisfactory. As the list grew mailing a newsletter
became a major task, trying to avoid the various anti-spam traps and
coping with the numerous emails that were rejected by subscribers'
email post offices as their mailboxes were full or had expired. The
newsletter became a headache and reluctantly I abandoned it. Then I
RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. Using RSS, web sites create
one or more RSS Feeds. An RSS Feed is a special web page
written in XML (a scripting language similar to the HTML used to
build the page you are reading). An RSS Feed file usually has an
.xml extension. My RSS Feed is a page is called
rss.xml. The page contains the latest headlines about my Office
Tips web site. Each headline is accompanies by a short synopsis and
a link to the relevant item on my site.
Web sites use RSS Feeds to provide information about new features or
changes to their sites. Bloggers use RSS Feeds to let their readers
know when they have published something new in their web log.
How do I find RSS Feeds?
May web sites now offer their visitors one or more RSS Feeds. Look
for a link to RSS or News Feeds or an orange button
labelled RSS or XML. This will take you to either the feed
itself or a page listing the various feeds available. My site
contains several links to my RSS Feed. You should normally expect to
find a link on the web site's home page.
Most web browsers can display an .xml page so if you follow the link
to the news feed you will be able to see its content. What you will
probably see is a collection of colourfully formatted text and XML
tags (although some web sites use XML style sheets to make the RSS
Feed easily readable) but don't be alarmed, it isn't meant to be
used this way! Follow this link to see what my RSS
Feed looks like in your browser (but remember to come back!).
You'll find RSS Feeds at many news web sites. Here are a few to try.
Follow the link to the web page then find the
BBC News: http://news.bbc.co.uk/
The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/
Sky News: http://www.sky.com/skynews/home
USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/
If you don't see orange buttons like the ones shown above, look for a text link or a different
style of button (e.g.
). There are several different ones in use.
If you are having trouble finding RSS Feeds to add to your news
reader visit one of the online news readers mentioned below. Most
have extensive lists of available feeds. Or go to your favourite
search engine and search using the keywords rss and
How Do I Start Using News Feeds?
Some people call it "subscribing" but the term is misleading because
you don't have to give anyone your email address and it doesn't cost
you anything! Making use of an RSS feed is completely anonymous.
First of all you
need some software that is capable of displaying and managing your
chosen RSS Feeds. This software is called a News Reader. Several
free versions are available and some browsers (e.g. Firefox and
Opera) have news readers built into them. The next version of
Internet Explorer (IE7) is expected to contain a news reader. Some of the
available news readers can incorporate themselves into your browser
or your email program, or you may prefer to use a standalone news
reader. To see what is currently available go to your favourite
search engine and search using the keywords feed and
I am currently trialling a standalone program called Feedreader
which is very simple to use. It is available to download free from
Having equipped yourself with the necessary software you can start
collecting your RSS Feeds. You will need to supply your news reader
with the URL (the web address) of each of your chosen RSS Feeds. The
news reader program may allow you to browse directly to the RSS Feed
page, or you may need to visit it with your web browser then copy
the URL from the address bar.
What Does a News Reader Look Like?
The following examples include screenshots of the free News Reader
program Feedreader. They show how a news reader program
displays news feeds [click the thumbnails to see a full-sized
||When the program open it checks the various web
sites that the user has specified, looking for news items with a
more recent timestamp than the headlines it already has. This
program displays my chosen news feeds in various categories on
the left of the window. Those in bold contain new headlines.
||Clicking on the name of a particular news feed
displays a list of headlines in the upper right-hand pane. The
headlines each display a timestamp. Unread headlines appear in
bold. General information about the web site (usually just a
logo and a small amount of text) appear in the lower right-hand
||Selecting a headline from the list in the upper
right-hand pane displays a short synopsis of the news item in
the together with a link (here marked "Read on") to the relevant
page on the web site.
||Clicking on the link displays the web page in
the lower right-hand pane of the news reader. Right-clicking on
the link offers the option to open the web page in the user's
Is There an Alternative to Installing a News Reader?
Yes. Numerous web sites offer the facility to manage your RSS Feeds
online. You might find that your ISP offers such a facility, or you
could make use of the facilities offered by sites such as Newsgator
or MyYahoo, where you can open a free account for the purpose. Along
with the orange RSS/XML buttons you will often see buttons which
link directly to the more popular free news reader sites. Here are
some examples. Use the text links to take a look at the host site
and find out how to open an account or, if you already have an
account, click the appropriate button to automatically add my news
feed to your list.
Here's how my Office Tips news feed looks on my My MSN page (left)
and on my ISP's homepage (right) [click the thumbnails to see the
How are RSS Feeds Kept Up-to-Date?
Online news readers are kept up-to-date by the host so that each
time you log in to your account you can be sure of seeing the latest
feeds. You may be offered options governing how feeds are displayed,
such as just those in the last 5 days or 30 days. Depending on the
RSS Feed owner, they might publish something new just once in a
while or, in the case of a news site like BBC News, the site might
publish dozens of new items each day.
If you use a News Reader program it will probably check all its
feeds at specified time intervals when your computer is connected to
the internet (you will probably have the option to change this) and
if running in the background can display a pop-up message when new