Archive for the ‘RSS’ Category.

The fundamentals: RSS reader

This post is for those who don’t know about RSS and syndication. Read on: this is easy and can save you a lot of time when reading your daily news and blogs.

Symbol for an RSS feed

Symbol for an RSS feed

The gist

An RSS feed (RSS: Real Simple Syndication) is a frequently updated list of… items. Usually the items are the latest news or blog posts of a site. You access a feed through its Web address, say http://www.fsavard.com/flow/feed/. Most big news sites (Google News, New York Times, etc.) publish such feeds, as do most blogs.

Concretely, what you do, personally, is build a list of RSS feeds (Web addresses), say of your favorite blogs and news sites. Then, having saved them in a tool called an RSS reader, every time you want to see what’s new on those sites, you refresh (re-download) the feeds, allowing you to get all updates in the same place. This saves you time and effort, and allows you to see everything in a linear, organized manner. Compare that with having to visit every site, only to see that most of them were not updated anyway.

Screenshot of FeedDemon, a popular aggregator

Screenshot of FeedDemon, a popular RSS reader

It’s important to realize that an RSS feed may represent just about anything. Some people, for example, publish their new bookmarks using that, or their recent activities on the Web. So if your friends publish such feeds, you can get news from them in the same place you read your daily news. One site built on such a concept is FriendFeed.

The tools

There are many tools to “aggregate” RSS feeds, called RSS readers (or aggregator). They all basically follow the same principle: you add feeds (URLs) and classify them in categories (world news, science news, etc.).

Some aggregators are Web based, meaning you can access them everywhere you have access to a browser. Some of the most popular online tools are Bloglines and Google Reader.

Screenshot of Google Reader

Screenshot of Google Reader

You may also aggregate news in a program installed locally, on your computer. A popular Windows application to do this is FeedDemon (see screenshot above).

You can usually switch from one program to the other by exporting the list of feeds. There’s a standard format for this, called OPML.

The technicals

An “RSS feed” is a file, just like any other file, that’s frequently updated to contain the most recent items. They’re usually downloaded from the Web, therefore having an URL.

For example, my blog has an RSS feed, accessible at this address: http://www.fsavard.com/flow/feed/. If you save it and open it in a text editor (ie. Notepad), you’ll see my latest blog posts marked up with <…> tags in a way that’s universally accepted. RSS is in fact the standard (file format) that specifies how this mark up is made (ie. how to let a program understand that this is the title, this is the summary, etc.). There are other formats (notably Atom), but we generally refer to feeds as RSS feeds anyway.

The standard icon for this can be seen at the top of this article, or in the right sidebar of this site (see “Follow my blog”).

The danger

Aggregating seems very neat in the beginning, but by the moment you realize how easy it is to add feeds, you rapidly accumulate lots of them, which translates in more and more news each day. The danger lies in spending, in the end, more time on daily news. The benefit is being more informed, of course.

That’s why you need to exercise balance, and learn to choose your feeds wisely. More on that in other posts.

References

Credits