Internet users are accustomed to surfing the web, migrating haphazardly or with purpose from site to site. Rather than periodically checking out your most interesting sites to see if anything of interest might have been added, imagine if those sites all came to you.
RSS (Really Simple Syndication) technology enables anyone to “subscribe” to content on the web and have updates downloaded into their RSS feed readers automatically. As many in the blogosphere have described it, RSS is like Tivo, but for the Internet. This simple analogy was the inspiration for the name of this talk. RSS feeds are most often used on sites with frequently updated content (e.g., blogs, news sites, scholarly journals, etc.). Steven M. Adams, Biological and Life Sciences Librarian at Princeton University, elucidates this underutilized knowledge discovery tool; it can transform the way you work and play on the web.
In his November 14 Lunch ‘n Learn seminar, Steven used a University Library web site dedicated to RSS as his slides for the presentation. The site contains a number of explanations about RSS, including a three minute tutorial from Common Craft that cuts through most of the technical jargon.
In order to take advantage of RSS, you will need to choose a feed reader or RSS aggregator. The RSS Readers and Tutorials tab in the Library web site contains tutorials for using four readers. In his talk, Steve focused upon three, Mozilla Firefox 2, Google Reader and RefWorks.
Steven suggested that Google Readers is probably the best option for those who are new to RSS. The site contains a short video that explains how to download the free Google Reader, how to start an account if you are new to Google, and how to subscribe to your favorite content. Once you have subscribed to a number of news and Blog feeds, Googe Reader, like other RSS aggregators, gives you the opportunity to organize the feeds thematically in folders.
Furthermore, Steven covered OPML (Outline Processor Markup Language). OPML is an XML protocol, originally used for outlines, that is now mostly used for importing and exporting collections of RSS feeds. Google Reader and other feed readers allow importing and exporting of feeds via OPML files.
Steven’s RSS site also provides answers to most frequently asked questions such as “How do I search for new content.” There are several different methods for subscribing. For example, you can copy the url from the Blog or news feed to which you want to subscribe and paste it into Google Reader’s Add Subscription Box. It’s that simple. You can also enter a search term into the Add Subscription Box to locate sites of interest. The tutorial also shows how to add a subscribe tab to your browser that eliminates the need to copy and paste url’s into Google Reader. Simply click the new button to subscribe.
For Princeton users, Steven has added a large and growing list of databases and e-journals that offer RSS feeds. Some permit University users to save a search and receive an RSS feed as new results of specific interest are added to a database. Others will permit you to receive an RSS notification every time a specific article is cited.
Steven also reviewed some interesting uses of RSS for leisure. For example, you can use Flickr to subscribe to photographs that contain specific tags. As a result, you could choose to see all new photographs that show images of your home town.
Steven concluded his talk by showing off an interesting use of RSS within Second Life. Princeton has created an island within Second Life that contains a recreation of Chancellor Green Library. Steve demonstrated that the library contains bulletin boards with embedded RSS feed links that highlight University scholars and news. By touching an RSS feed link, the source will open within your browser.
A podcast is available.