18 Apr

Keeping Up with RSS

Hello, Everyone!  I wanted to point out some less-than-obvious functionality that most blogs feature.  In particular, the RSS feed.  It seems that people who use it love it…and people who don’t use it…well, really don’t know much about it.  SO–at the risk of sounding pedantic, here goes.

RSS stands for “Really Simply Syndication” and can be thought of simply like a morning newspaper.  That is, if we can even remember what a newspaper is in our day and age 🙂 .  A newspaper did/does a fantastic job of compiling bits of information and delivering it as a package to one’s door.  An RSS feed is essentially the same–whenever a web or other RSS enabled content is updated, an RSS Client notices the change and grabs the new content for the user.  SO, if you have “subscribed” to this site’s RSS feed, you have probably received this particular post inside your client without having to visit the site itself.

Which is very cool and very convenient.  If you aren’t currently familiar with this technology, I’ll give some tips later on.

More to the point many Content Management Systems (CMS) have this built in.  Such as Wiki, manufacturer websites, on-line stores, community forums, and many others.  I realized that most people just aren’t using the technology recently while setting up a professional organization chapter website.  I made sure that the other members were aware of not just the main RSS feed, but all the other feeds that were buried within the site–like Recent Changes on the Wiki that is it’s own discrete feed.  (This article is actually an edited cross-post of the one I wrote there.)

Anyway.  The I’ll get to the point.  Use an RSS client. Here’s how:

Clicking on the link above in a modern web browser like Internet Explorer 7 or Firefox 3 will expose the built in RSS client.

firefox_subscribe
ie_subscribe

The simple fact is, that using a browser as an RSS feed reader is rather less like an RSS Client and rather more like a plain old book mark.  Which seems to be a little silly.  There are two other ways to subscribe to RSS feeds.

The first is via a stand alone client.  There are a few of these, most are free and pretty sturdy.  If forced to use one, I would personally go for RSSBandit, which can be found at here.

rss_bandit_final256logo

However, my personal choice for catching RSS feeds is to bring them into my email client.  That is the logical place for me to receive updated information on a random basis.  My email client is always open and does a great job of notifying me when there is something new.

There are many email clients with RSS clients built right in.  Among these are Microsoft Outlook 2007, which is an excellent product for many reasons.  Also is the robust and feature-rich Mozilla Thunderbird–which if not for Outlook, would be my choice of email clients on the Windows platform.  For Linux, one of the many common plug-ins for the excellent Evolution email client handles RSS reading.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of email clients in the world today are Microsoft Outlook 2003, which does not have a native RSS reader.  So, to add this functionality in, we will have to install a plug-in.  I have been using RSSPopper for Outlook for six months and believe that I can recommend it without reservation.  RSSPopper can be downloaded from http://www.rsspopper.com

After a simple install and a quick restart of Outlook 2003, it is up and running.  Now it is possible to configure some feeds.

rsspopper

Click on the RSSPopper button that has been installed in your Outlook toolbar, and select “Edit Feeds”.  Click the “New>>” button on the right hand side Feed Info window, and select “New RSS/Atom Feed…”.

add_a_feed

With the “Feed Information” box ready, select the entire feed URL to the feed and paste it into the Link field.  BTW, you might have noticed–RSSPopper supports more than just RSS and Atom.  I can be used to keep your Outlook synchronized with a web-based calendar via iCal support.

Now, simply click the “Get From Feed” button, which should bring back the feed Title.  Click OK twice and away you have a new feed. Sharp eyes will see XML logo badges or RSS badges on many websites–I have nearly 30 or so feeds I monitor daily.  It helps me stay informed.

xml rss_20_badge

Good Luck!  And keep watching for XML or RSS badges on websites!