Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Master Your World with RSS Feeds

If you frequent web logs, you may have come across tiny XML icons that invite you to ‘syndicate’ a particular website. Many of us ignore the message for the simple reason that we don’t know what exactly ‘syndication’ means.

The print media had long recognized the money they could make by incorporating stories from several other news sites into their own. Subsequently, it had driven more traffic to their websites and resulted into more business. But that’s not all. They could also cover a wider area a wider area than their staff reporters could. Thus began the concept and business of syndication.

When you enter the World Wide Web, you are greeted by a bulk of authors who write on a wide range of topics food, fashion, people, ideas, books, gizmos and technology trends, to name a few. But those who go online for the pleasure of reading find it extremely difficult to keep track of all their favourite blogs, unless there is an automated system to do that. This is where RSS steps in. Short for Really Simple Syndication, RSS is a quick and easy way for the Web to share stories, articles, essays and headlines from other sites. You can use news readers to scan the headlines using RSS aggregators.  

History of RSS

Netscape, the inventor of RSS, was trying to make headway into the portal business and wanted an XML format so that it can simplify the process of information sourcing and feature news stories from other websites on its own. So, the company came up with RSS .91, but dropped it when they decided to exit the portal business. UserLand Software grabbed this opportunity and decided to develop this particular version of RSS. The result was RSS .92, .93 and .94. At the same time, a non-commercial group picked up RSS and developed RSS 1.0, based on its interpretation of the original principles. UserLand eventually launched RSS 2.0.

How to read RSS feeds

RSS feeds will automatically bring updated information to your system, so that you can keep a tab on news, blogs, job listings classifieds and much more. Many websites and blogs offer RSS feeds and you can easily identify this feature by a small button that either says XML or RSS. A click on one of these buttons will lead you to a page full of codes. But in order to read the updates properly, you will require an RSS reader. Here is a step by step guide to help you.

Get a reader: Go to and choose an RSS reader from the list featured there. Generally, the paid reads cost about $20 to $30. When you purchase the application, you have access to several other features and tools within the reader. There are two main types of RSS feed readers. Once is a standalone application for processing the RSS feeds. Simply put, it will be a totally new application that you can populate as you like. Another type of RSS feed reader is the plug-in. This application works within a programme that already exists, such as the Internet Explorer or the Microsoft Outlook.

Installation and setting up: When you launch a standalone reader, you will see a toolbar, as well as three window panes, arranged like the preview mode in Microsoft Outlook. The pane on the left displays channels or RSS feeds that you have subscribed to. You can also organize these into folders or categories. The upper right panel will show up the list of articles within the channel that you have selected. The content of the article is displayed in the lower right panel. To change the channel groups, click the drop down box located just below the menu. You will get a brief description in the lower right side. Click on the link given there to load the complete text. You can also configure the application so as to get an e-mail message whenever an interesting article is published. Most will display a pop-up window over the taskbar that will show the channel name, article URL and article title. You can also plug in a standalone reader within existing applications like the Internet Explorer or the Outlook.

Add channels and channel groups: Many RSS readers come preloaded with channels. However, you may like to add your own channel to this list. There are several programmes that allow you to create a new channel group for organizing your channels better. To add a channel, visit the ‘CNET RSS’ page and click the ‘All Review’ link. Right click or use CTRL+C to copy the URL from the address bar of your browser, which will show a page full of XML code. Now, go back to your news reader, choose the category where you want to place the new subscription and select ‘New’ or ‘New Channel’ from the ‘File’ menu. In most cases, the URL you copy should automatically be pasted into the URL field in the ‘New Channel’ wizard. Or else, you can cut and paste the URL yourself.

Customise: When you subscribe to several articles from various feeds, it becomes difficult to find specific  information. RSS feed readers include tools just for this purpose – to filter such articles. The ‘Filter’ tool looks for articles that contain specific keywords. This can also be done in labeled search. Type a keyword in the ‘Search’ or ‘Filter’ bar to use this feature. Some RSS readers can set a watch, a way of automatically searching through all your incoming feeds for specific keyword. Here is a step by step to set up a watch:

– Open the ‘File’ menu, select ‘New’ and choose the option ‘new Watch’.

– Now, give it a title in the dialog box and enter a search term in the keyword field.

– Click on ‘Add’ to put the search term into the keyword list.

– Click on ‘OK’ to activate your watch. It will appear in the ‘Watch list’ located in the left panel. The ‘Watch’ panel will show the number of articles that come up with each keyword.

– Click any ‘Watch’ to see the articles it has managed to capture.

Purne you feed: If you do not want to be overwhelmed with articles and content, it is important to prune your feeds. In order to delete a feed, just delete the title and you RSS reader will stop looking for similar information. 

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