RSS: Bring the News to You!

We all have our favorite websites, news topics and eBay items that we like to check out every day. Some of us have 10 to 15 websites bookmarked and others have 50, 100, 200 or more. If it takes an average of 3-4 minutes to check out each page for updated news, scan headlines and then navigate to the next bookmarked website, a lot of time adds up in daily visits to those sites. And if you’re one of those people who craves information and feels compelled to check those same websites over and over again in case something has been updated… well, you could be wasting a lot of time and energy.

Take control of your information and entertainment habits by using a very simple, easily understood and effective way of bringing web searches to you – an automated data collection service called RSS, or Really Simple Syndication.

Really Simple means just that – really simple, very easy, not complex. Syndication is the act of publishing or broadcasting data or articles simultaneously to a large number of interested parties. This used to apply directly to newspaper articles, television shows, the evening news, etc. Now it also refers to how websites – now matter how corporate or personal – can easily allow people to track news and website updates without "visitors" having to visit the actual website.

In very basic terms, using RSS is much like having a single button on your TV remote that instantly tells you what’s on each of your favorite channels (including an image of what’s playing) without you having to channel surf. Keeping with the TV analogy, you can also instruct the RSS reader to tell you when your favorite commercial is on or when a favorite topic is being discussed on any channel anywhere. Talk about smart surfing!

How does this work? Using an uncomplicated and almost entirely automatic behind-the-scenes computer language (referred to as RSS or XML), website owners/publishers can program their websites to allow regular folks like you and me to click on a special RSS link that will open up the RSS page on that website. Once your computer recognizes that it’s looking at an RSS page, it’ll do one of two things: 1) if your web browser is capable, it’ll track all updates for all RSS feeds in one simplified page or area, or 2) if you have a free or paid "RSS reader" program installed on your computer, it’ll open that RSS program and add the new RSS feed, which it’ll then track on an hourly, daily or weekly basis – whichever you prefer.

Once you’ve subscribed to one or more RSS feeds, all you need to do is open your RSS program or click on the RSS link that your web browser has set up for you, and all your news sites, websites, photo streams and gossip pages will come straight to your screen. It’s really quite beautiful once it’s set up.

Here are a few examples of what an RSS feed icon might look like on a website. Of course, there are many variations on RSS Iconthis theme, but the general idea is the same:

Here are some examples of the millions of websites that offer RSS feeds to help you automatically collect data, photos, news, etc.

DigitalTrends.com – technology news, reviews and updates
Yahoo! News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, etc. – up to the minute news
Flickr.com, Webshots.com, NationalGeographic.com, etc. – hot new photos
WhiteHouse.gov, USA.gov, etc. – political and government news updates

These are a few of the more popular RSS reader programs available for your computer. Of course, there are many more RSS readers available for free or for a small fee.

FeedDemon (Windows)
NewzCrawler (Windows)
– Internet Explorer or Firefox web browsers (Windows)
NewsFire (Mac)
NetNewsWire (Mac)
– Safari or Firefox web browsers (Mac)

Do you ever find yourself looking for the same topics on Google or perhaps the same items on eBay? It’s easy to add simple RSS searches into your RSS reader to automatically track those searches for you. No more wasting minutes, hours or days looking for the same thing over and over again. Here’s an example of a precise eBay search that I’m interested in – blue espresso cups. Whenever my RSS reader is running, it’ll check in with eBay to see if there are any new blue espresso cups up for sale. Now I don’t have to manually search every day.

RSS can be used in so many ways. As you become more familiar with RSS, you’ll find that it’s an indispensable asset. You may also find that you’ve got a little extra free time day to day, week to week. What you do with that free time is up to you – go to a spa, spend some fun time with your family, catch an exciting movie, whatever. Thank RSS for a slightly easier online experience.

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