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What is RSS?

By Lasa Information Systems Team

RSS are the three letters on everyone's lips this year. This technology can help you stay up to date with the latest news, and keep others informed what's up with your organisation.

Depending on whom you ask RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary.  These differences aside, RSS is just another way for websites to publish their content.  Information published by RSS is often referred to as an RSS feed, or just simply a feed. With both Microsoft and Firefox embracing RSS support as a key feature you'll be hearing a lot more about these three letters in the next year or two.

Feed me!

Most feeds you see on the web replicate content on the website you are viewing.  A website that regularly produces new articles (such as a blog or a news site) would publish its most recent ten or so articles (or excerpts of them) in an RSS feed as well as on their website.  As each new article is published it is added to the top of the feed, with older articles removed from the bottom.  The feed also contains information such as when each article was published and the URL of the web version.

What does that mean to me?

You can use RSS feeds in a number of ways - the main two being syndicating content from a feed onto your own website, and subscribing to a feed using software called an aggregator.

Aggregating what?

Most aggregators look a lot like email programmes.  When you subscribe to a feed using an aggregator a new folder is created.  Each article in the feed is stored in that folder.  Aggregators make it really easy to keep up to date with websites you look at regularly.  Some aggregators even create a customised "front page" for you, made up of the newest stories from all the feeds you subscribe to.  This can be a great time saver, making it possible to see what information is available on all those sites and choosing which articles are really interesting to you.

  • RSS Bandit - free open source aggregator
  • Feed Demon - non-free aggregator with good "front page" feature
  • Newsfire - Aggregator for the Mac
  • Newsgator - non-free plugin that pulls RSS feeds into Outlook
  • Feed Reader - free open source aggregator - very simple and easy to use

Aggregator websites also exist which provide the same functionality but through your web browser.

To use an aggregator of either sort you need the URL of the feed.  You can get this by right clicking on the feed icon or link and selecting Copy Link Location or Copy Shortcut.  You can then paste the URL to wherever you need it.  Some aggregators will automatically subscribe to a feed when you click on the icon or link.

What about syndication?

Syndication in this context means taking the content from one website and displaying it on another.  RSS feeds can be used to do this with a little web know how.

Can I really do that?

You should always check with a site owner before syndicating content made available through an RSS Feed unless they have explicitly stated you may do so.  In the case of the ICT Hub Knowledgebase Feeds, please contact us if you wish to syndicate our content. 

ICT Hub Knowledgebase Feeds are intended for personal use in aggregators only. You must contact us if you wish to use our RSS feeds to syndicate content on your website.

Feed the world

If you regularly produce information for a website, an RSS feed may be a great way to get that information on front of more sets of eyes.  If you use a CMS, you may find that setting up a feed is simply a matter of throwing a switch and deciding where on your pages to link from.  Without a CMS things are a bit trickier - you may need to manually create the RSS feed, and remember to update it each time you write a new item.  The Government Information Locator Service RSS Workshop takes you through the steps.

Luckily for those who find working with code a bit much, tools are available which make the task easier.  RSSDreamFeeder is an extension for Dreamweaver that automatically scours your site for new information and creates and updates your feed appropriately.  Another option is the online RSS Creator tool, although this doesn't allow updating of existing feeds.

Once you have created your feed, simply save it to your website as you would a regular web page and then link to it.  If you start the URL with feed:// instead of http:// some aggregators will automatically subscribe to the feed when the link is clicked.  More details on this can be found at the Feed Protocol site.

RSS Icons

RSS Feeds are usually advertised with one of a whole plethora of icons.  You may see them marked as XML, RSS or simply FEED, often with a bright orange background.  Both Microsoft and the Firefox web browser have embraced RSS as a key feature and are sharing the same icon which may as a result become a de facto standard.  You can download the image from the Feed Icon site.


About the author

Lasa Information Systems Team
Lasa's Information Systems Team provides a range of services to third sector organisations including ICT Health Checks and consulting on the best application of technology in your organisation. Lasa IST maintains the knowledgebase. Follow us on Twitter @LasaICT

Glossary

Aggregator, Blog, Browser, CMS, Feed, Feed Reader, Hub, ICT, MAC, Protocol, RSS, Software, Switch, URL, Web Browser, Web Page, Website, XML

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Published: 24th April 2021 Reviewed: 2nd May 2021

Copyright © 2021 Lasa Information Systems Team

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abamaison
14th August 2021There's a great short video over at Common Craft (http://www.commoncraft.com) that explains how RSS works http://www.commoncraft.com/rss_plain_english

abamaison
11th February 2021There's a nice article on Techsoup that discusses why the benefits of RSS for managers in the non profit sector: http://techsoup.org/learningcenter/internet/page7325.cfm