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Current Awareness Services - Setting Up RSS

Background

"RSS" stands for "Really Simple Syndication" and is a file format used on the Internet for packaging information from one site or application to be easily incorporated into another site or application. This process is usually referred to as "syndicating" a site, or providing an RSS "feed." The official technical specification for RSS has much more detail on the format and usage of RSS feeds.

RSS Icon

Briefly, RSS provides automatic notification when new content is added to a website. A few examples are:

  • notice of upcoming campus events (Using RSS at Bowdoin lists feeds provided by the college);
  • daily news summaries from the Chronicle of Higher Education;
  • new book reviews from The New York Times;
  • new issue alerts from journals.

Because the goal of RSS feeds is flexibility, there are many ways that you can incorporate RSS-based information into your day-to-day information gathering workflow. Choosing your "feeder" will depend on your individual needs and circumstances. For example, will you always access your RSS information from a single computer? Would you like to incorporate RSS into your regular email client?

Listed below are four of the more popular methods of setting up RSS feeds, with related advantages and disadvantages. Step-by-step procedures are not included here; instead please check the site's help section (look for keywords like "reader" or "rss" or "live bookmarks"). As always, don't hesitate to ask for assistance.

1. Using E-mail Clients

Most e-mail client software (Apple Mail, Outlook, etc.) make it very easy to subscribe to RSS feeds.  Just check the help section of your client.

Advantages:

  • Integrates seamlessly into an application you may already use on a daily basis
  • Feeds are organized inside separate folders, just as you might do with your regular email
  • Apart from opening your e-mail software, no action is needed on your part - feeds will be automatically updated
  • Individual items from a feed can be kept indefinitely

Disadvantages:

  • Your feeds are kept on a single computer

2. Using Web Browsers

Many web browsers will alert you that a web site contains subscribable feeds (look for the RSS icon RSS icon or similar notification in the address bar of your browser). Mozilla Firefox will let you add RSS feeds to your Bookmark list, with new RSS feed items showing up as an automatically updated collection of bookmark links. Safari allows you to set up RSS feeds in Apple mail and will even let you incorporate RSS feed items into a screensaver.

Advantages:

  • Integration with a frequently used application
  • Provides a direct link between the information in the RSS feed and the actual web pages to which they point.

Disadvantages:

  • Your feeds are kept on a single computer
  • Display customization options usually very limited

3. Using Stand-alone RSS "Aggregators"

This category of reader is specifically designed for retreiving, consolidating and displaying RSS-based information and normally provide a wide range of options for how the information is displayed.

Examples: SharpReader, FeedReader, RSS Bandit; check app stores for smartphones and tablets

Advantages:

  • Usually offer more options than other types of readers, such as how feeds are displayed, how often they are refreshed, and the ability to group feeds into customized categories
  • Can generally download information from feeds to the local computer for offline reading

Disadvantages:

  • Your feeds are kept on a single computer

4. Using Online "Aggregators"

As an alternative to using stand-alone aggregators that you run on your local computer, these let you create an account and subscribe to your favorite RSS feeds via a web page.

Examples: Bloglines, Google Reader

Advantages:

  • Your feeds are stored on a remote server, so you can access them from any computer
  • Easy integration between feed information and pages to which they refer
  • Many popular RSS reading sites have browser plug-ins / buttons for easy subscription to feeds.

Disadvantages:

  • Privacy issues involved in having a third party know to which feeds you subscribe
  • Generally fewer display options.