Author: Fred Riley
Last updated: 31 August, 2004
This FAQ is aimed at general, non-technical users, and is intended to cover the most basic basics of RSS. More enthusiastic and/or technical readers should follow the links at the bottom of the page to further information.
Websites can syndicate news items by making a RSS newsfeed available on their site. You can use a newsreader to pick up ('aggregate') these feeds, allowing you to view headlines and usually the first line of the news story. If the story is interesting enough you can click on a link to the full story at the originating website.
Before RSS there were two ways of keeping up to date with websites:
Option 1 is fine if you're only interested in a few sites, but once the number of sites that interest you moves into double figures it becomes a little time-consuming. Option 2 is only offered by a few sites, and you get so much email these days that you're loathe to add to your burden, and even if you do want more email the chances are you or your mail filter will delete it as spam.
If you use a newsreader (or 'news aggregator') to pick up newsfeeds and check on them regularly, you can see a précis of what's new on websites without having to visit each site or add to your email pile. Only if the new content interests you do you go off to the website to read it.
On this site, we've presented some 'ready-rolled' newsfeeds so that you don't even have to get a newsreader to read them. We've also included a news feed of our own on the main news page for you to link to.
Newsfeeds are also a handy way of keeping up with weblogs (or 'blogs'). Many weblog providers provide the ability for 'bloggers' - people who write weblogs - to syndicate their work by including a newsfeed. A UKHE example is Stòr Cùram, a national project to develop RLOs for Social Work.
Get a newsreader, sometimes also known as a 'news aggregator' to differentiate the term from Usenet newsreaders. There are scores of newsreaders out there, free and commercial. Having evaluated a good number of these, my recommendation, for Windows users, would be to use either Awasu or Abilon, both of which are easy to install and use, and are free for personal use. If you don't like them, or you don't use Windows, or you want to pay money for extra features and support, have a look at the comprehensive News Aggregators Directory at hebig.org.
Look for a link, often a small image, labelled "RSS", or "XML", or just "Newsfeed". Most websites, including, shamefully, sites of news providers, haven't jumped onto the RSS bandwagon, so feeds are relatively rare. Syndication is taking off in a big way, though, so expect more sites to provide feeds in the near future.
Most weblogs (or 'blogs') have newsfeeds so that you can keep up with the musings and maunderings of the (we)blog writer. For a UKHE example, see the Stòr Cùram weblog (newsfeed link at the top of the right column).
The following are a few well-known sites that collate newsfeeds:
Really Simple Syndication. Or Rich Site Summary. Or RDF Site Summary. Take your pick. Not to be confused with the Royal Statistical Society.
Try reading one or more of the user-friendly articles below.
Now we're getting technical. A very good, and fairly non-technical, starting point for authors is RSS - A Primer for Publishers and Content Providers on the Internet Guide to Engineering, Mathematics and Computing (better known as EEVL). The References & Notes section at the end of that document lists selected articles to take you further down the publishing route. The RSS Tutorial for Content Publishers and Webmasters is a more technical document for authors with basic familiarity with XML and web technologies.
RSS-xpress, a service for UKHE provided by UKOLN, allows you to create your own newsfeed by simply filling in a form, and is the best starting point for the non-technical and/or those who don't have access to web servers on which they can host news databases. More durable and flexible methods of generating a newsfeed require knowledge of databases and web scripting languages, such as ASP and PHP - this is way beyond the scope of this FAQ.