What's this all about?
In this information age, it is easy to spend more time looking for the latest news than actually reading it. Consider this situation: you like to follow the latest news from many sources; for international news you regularly go to CNN, Yahoo News, the BBC, and perhaps the Web sites of news organizations in your country and region. For IT news, you regularly go to CNET, PC World, Slashdot, and of course IBM. Plus, you follow your friends' blogs.
If you had to go to each Web site individually, then you'd spend more time in your bookmarks than reading the headlines, and more importantly, you may find there hasn't been any new news since you were last there - a waste of your time and effort. Enter RSS feeds.
What is an RSS feed and how do I read it?
An RSS feed (or more generally, a feed) is simply a subscription to updates from a Web site or Web page. Through RSS, you can be automatically notified as soon as updates are made. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. Technically, a feed is an XML file on each of these Web sites that is specially coded to list the latest headlines in a machine-readable format.
To read RSS feeds, you will need some software on your computer (an RSS reader client) or access to a Web site that offers the same functionality. To "subscribe" to feed, simply right-click the related graphic and click Copy Link Location or Copy Shortcut, then paste it into your RSS reader. Alternatively for users of for users of free Web-based services Bloglines, My Yahoo, and Pluck, simply click the appropriate button to add the feed to your account. We go into more detail on both of these below.
How is RSS different from e-mail?
First, with RSS, you don't give out your e-mail address. This means fewer organizations and people will know your email address and you will potentially get less spam e-mail as a result.
Secondly, the new articles that you receive via RSS don't go into your e-mail inbox. All articles are stored and viewed by you using the RSS reader software or Web site you have configured. This means less clutter -- your inbox is more likely to hold e-mails from your friends, family, and colleagues, and less from mailing lists.
A third benefit is that the feeds you subscribe to are automatically organized by feed. Unlike e-mail, where all new mail displays as one big list in your inbox (unless you've set up filtering), RSS readers typically display feeds separately from each other. As a result, your CNET feed and your BBC News feed, for example, remain separated and easier to manage.
Finally, RSS tends to be much more timely than most e-mail notifications.
What clients are available?
There are two main types of clients available, some free, some available for purchase. These are:
- Desktop aggregators are installed on your computer and are available for Windows, Linux, and just about every other platform. Web-based or online clients are special Web sites where you set up an account and then subscribe and read all your RSS feeds from the one location.
- The desktop-based ones have the advantage of letting you read the news articles offline and being as fast as your computer. The online ones have the advantage of letting you view your feeds from anywhere you have an Internet connection and Web browser.
Wikipedia has a great list of both types of clients at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_aggregators. The list includes links to the home page of each client with information on how to download and install each one.
How do I add a feed to my client?
The exact procedure depends very much on the capabilities of your RSS reader software, but basically it is as follows:
- Using your Web browser, go to the site of the organization you want to follow and look for the or image (these icons are interchangeable).
- Right-click the icon and click Copy Shortcut (Internet Explorer) or Copy Link Location (Firefox), or the equivalent for your browser.
- Start your RSS reader software.
- Look for the button, link, or menu that says Add a Feed or similar.
- Paste in the URL you copied in step 2 (either right-click in the field and click Paste, or click the field and press Ctrl+V).
- Click OK or Add to add the feed.
The feed should now be added to your list of feeds.
To aid organizations (aggregators) that share lists of RSS feeds with others, IBM also offers an OPML-formatted file http://www.ibm.com/ibm/syndication/index.opml. For more information about OPML, its use, and its specification, see Wikipedia's OPML page at http://wikipedia.org/wiki/OPML.