Thing 4: RSS

Our next topic is all about RSS, a cryptic and perhaps scary sounding acronym. I have to admit, RSS Used To Scare Me!

What is RSS? Why use it? A quick example. You each set up a blog to share your reflections during this program. All of your blogs have an RSS feed. You didn’t need to set it up, it’s just there as part of the blogging software.  Using a tool called Netvibes, I added each of your RSS feeds and created a CoolTools blogs page.  Now whenever I visit that page, I see an up-to-date list of all your recent blog posts. RSS automatically pulls the lists of latest posts to the page. Magic. I can now quickly scan through over 100 blogs!

And that’s just the beginning – this lesson will cover how to keep up with blogs, news sites and other resources that interest you through the magic of RSS.

INTRODUCTION

Keeping up with information on the Web is a challenge, sometimes an overwhelming one. Back in the early days of the Web, we could check out one or two “site of the day” services and feel like we were keeping up. Not any more! Keeping up with even a single topic now requires lots of searching and sifting through content.

If you read more than just a few blogs or visit news sites frequently, you might find you’re spending a lot time going back to each site to see if there’s anything new. If a blogger hasn’t posted anything in a week or two or if there isn’t any breaking news on your favorite web site, then you’re spending a lot of time for no return.

By using an RSS feed reader tool like Feedly, Netvibes or Digg Reader, you can save you lots of time by letting the feed reader do all the time consuming & tedious work of checking all your favorite blogs and news sites for you. When you visit your feed reader you’ll see a nicely organized list of anything that’s new on all the blogs and news sites you follow. This is a handy way to save tons of time!

To see how it works, check out this quick video. NOTE: The video was done in 2007 and some of the specific tools mentioned don’t exist anymore. But it’s still a really good explanation of the basic idea and there are newer tools that do the same things – more on those below.

So, What’s RSS?

RSS is short for “Really Simple Syndication”, which sounds complicated, but it’s really just a way for delivering regularly updated information over the Web. It’s very much like subscribing to a print magazine or newspaper that gets delivered to your mailbox or front door whenever a new issue is published. This saves you the hassle of having to go to your local newstand everyday to check for the latest issues. Similarly, you can subscribe to the RSS feed of your favorite blogs and news sites and get the latest information from those sites delivered to you, rather than having to check the sites over and over for updates.

What kinds of sites have RSS?

Look for sites that are have frequent updates, they’re the most likely to have an RSS feed. These are some of the types of sites that have RSS feeds:

  • Blogs come with RSS built right in. So if it’s a blog, it will have an RSS feed.
  • News sites like CNN and NPR
  • Library databases – Check out the Gale, Ebsco & other databases you pay for. They have RSS feeds for subject searches that will send you updates whenever a new article is published on a topic you’re interested in. Great for students doing research and needing to keep up to date on the latest articles.
  • Bookmark sharing services like delicious and diigo – get updates on new sites that have been added for topics you’re interested in
  • YouTube & flickr – you can subscribe to all the videos/photos from a particular user account.
  • Book Publishers – get updates on their latest publications
  • Magazines – receive headlines and content from their latest issues.
  • and many more!

RSS & LIBRARIES

What can libraries do with RSS? Libraries already use many services that have RSS feeds built right in. These services help us provide our students and patrons with lots of information.

  • Blogs – Lots of libraries have blogs (with RSS built in!) for their library news. Teachers, students and parents can subscribe to the library news with their own feed readers or via email.
  • Events – Many events calendars also have RSS feeds built in. eg: New York Public Library events feeds
  • Databases – Many of our big magazine/journal/newspaper databases have RSS feeds for subject searches and more.
  • Library Catalogs – Many library catalogs have RSS for subject searches, recent aquisitions and so on. For example, the Finger Lakes Library System provide RSS feeds for New Books, Videos and more.
  • Book Reviews – Take a look at this library’s RSS feed of recent book (and other material) reviews Denver Public Library
  • Share Links – Do you collect great resources in Diigo or Delicious? Those tags you’re adding to organize things all have RSS feeds. Take a look at the Tips, Tools & Resources section on the right sidebar of our Cool Tools homepage. That is an RSS feed that pulls over links listed in this Diigo Cool Tools for Schools group.

How do you know if a site has an RSS Feed?

If you see one of these little orange icons or a link that says subscribe, rss, feed and something similar, then you’re visiting a site that has an RSS Feed and you can subscribe to it.

TOOLS TO EXPLORE

There are a number of tools that you can use to subscribe to RSS feeds.

This week’s basic exercise will focus on setting up an account with Netvibes, Feedly, The Old Reader or any other RSS tool you’d like to explore.

NETVIBES : Netvibes is personal start page where you can add and organise links to your favorite web pages, RSS feeds and social networking sites. It also has all sorts of productivity tools like calendars, weather information, bookmarking tools, notepads and other “widgets”. If you make Netvibes your brower’s home page, then you have your own customized home page on the web!

Netvibes lets you set up multiple pages (“dashboards” as they’re known in Netvibes lingo) with tabs for different topics, classes, grades or other breakdown. Netvibes allows one public dashboard page, while keeping your other dashboards private. This is really handy for setting up pathfinders for students doing research, current awareness services for faculty or information portals for library patrons.

FEEDLY: When Google Reader was killed off by Google, Feedly became one of the more popular replacements. It helps you organize tons of RSS content in a streamlined way, making it easy to scan lots of posts in a hurry. You’ll need a Google or gmail account to login and create an account with Feedly.

  • Getting Started with Feedly (video) – Ignore the first few seconds of the video that talk about getting an app for your browser, but the rest of the video gives a good quick overview of features.
  • MakeUseOf Unofficial Guide to Feedly – This in depth document covers everything you need to know about Feedly (and then some…) (it might be easier to read in it’s PDF format)

Digg Reader: Another popular and easy to use feed reader is Digg Reader. It has a nice simple interface that is clear and easy to follow.

HOW TO FIND A FEED

If you see one of the little orange icons or a link that says subscribe, rss, feed and something similar, then you’re visiting a site that has an RSS Feed and you can subscribe to it.

  • Click on the symbol or link and you should be taken to a new web page that shows the latest headlines from the blog or news page you’re trying to subscribe too.
  • Copy the URL for that page. This is the URL for that site’s RSS feed.
  • Paste that URL into the “add feed” option in your feed reader.

BASIC LEARNING ACTIVITY

Your activity for this week is to set up a personal start page or an account with a feed reader. If you already have an account with one of these tools, test out a new one to compare them. Or test some of the advanced features of your favorite service. The most important thing is to explore and learn something new.

Don’t forget to log your blog post when you’re done!  When you finish this lesson by fill out the log form. You’ll need the URL of your first blog post to complete the form.

Step 1: Pick a tool to explore and set up an account.

Netvibes | Feedly | Digg Reader | or other tool or mobile app of your choice.

NOTE: Don’t forget to write down your account info. Login, password, etc.

Step 2: If you chose Netvibes, add some other gadgets/widgets that interest you. Can you find any library related widgets?

Step 3: Add some RSS feeds to the tool you chose. Some ideas to try:

  • Your favorite blogs, news sites.
  • Subscribe to the RSS feed for this blog! Use the subscribe links over there on the right.
  • You could also add the RSS feeds for some of the other participants’ blogs.
  • Do a search in one of the Gale or Ebsco databases and add the RSS feed for the search.

Step 4 : Write your blog post for the week. Please include “Thing 4: RSS” in the title.

Some ideas to think about as you blog:

  • What do you like about RSS and feed readers?
  • What features did you explore?
  • How do you think you might be able to use this technology in your work or personal life?
  • How can libraries use RSS or take advantage of this new technology?
  • Did you find any great sources we should all add to our feed readers?

ADVANCED LEARNING ACTIVITY

If you already have an RSS feed reader account or a personal start page that you’re happy with, here are some alternative activities and ideas for you to explore. Pick one or more write up your thoughts on your blog. Please include “Thing 4: RSS” in the title.

  • Mobile option: Have an iOS or Android device? Try adding the Flipboard app to your device and adding some RSS feeds. If you’ve organized RSS feeds in folders in your Google Reader, try adding one of those folders to Flipboard. Similarly, you can add saved Twitter searches and lists too.
  • Explore a different personal start page tool like Protopage or SymbalooEdu. There’s also an extensive list of iGoogle alternatives on Phil Bradley’s blog.
  • Set up a public page of RSS feeds (Netvibes, Protopage) to help students with a research project. Or set up one for the other faculty in your school or department. Pull in great resources to share with them.
  • Do you bookmark great resources in Diigo or Delicious? Use the RSS feed for one of your tags and add them to an RSS widget on your blog sidebar. Or add some to your library web site.
  • Add an RSS widget to your Cool Tools blog site. Add the RSS feed for this site, or another favorite blog.
  • Other ideas? Have some other RSS related project that you want to explore? Go for it! And share your ideas with us!

MORE RESOURCES

Finding blogs

Blog directories and “best of” lists abound.

  • “Best Of” lists – do a search for best yourtopichere blogs on your favorite search engine. You’ll find lots of lists!
  • The Edublog Awards – Lists nominated blogs and winners in over 20 education categories for every year since 2004.
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