Monday, October 10, 2005

RSS: what the heck?

Simply put, RSS is an easy way for readers of a particular website or blog to be notified of updates to the site or blog's content. The content is syndicated, really simply (RSS). For a longer, more complicated explanation of RSS' technical specs, visit this Wikipedia entry.

RSS uses the XML file format to deliver web content right to an interested reader's desktop, mobile phone, or PDA-type device. Think of your favorite news site, blog, or online comic as the newspaper, and RSS as your newspaper subscription.

But, just because you have a newspaper subscription, you still need an intermediary to deliver the content to your door; the paperboy. In terms of RSS, an aggregator or feed reader can be used to check your favorite sites for updates, and deliver them electronically.

You have your choice of aggregator types. You can download a Windows, Mac, or cross-platform aggregator to your desktop, or you can go with a web-based aggregator. Here is a list of the different types of aggregators available for your perusal.

How do you know if your favorite blog or website has an RSS feed available? Look for an orange rectangle on the page marked RSS or XML. This means that the administrator has established a site feed to which you can subscribe. NDLA Blogging for Beginners has established such a feed to keep you updated of new entries to the blog without you having to return to the site itself. Have a look at the sidebar to the right.

Also, look for a button that says "Subscribe." Many online aggregators, such as Bloglines will allow you to subscribe to blog updates simply by clicking on the button provided. This blog has an easy Subscribe with Bloglines button available to you in the sidebar to the right. Just make sure you sign up for a free account with your online aggregator first! Most online aggregators will provide related links, or a directory of other blogs and websites with RSS feeds, so that you can keep up to date on any topic that might interest you.

How are libraries using RSS?

The University of Alabama Libraries use it to notify students and faculty of recently cataloged books.

Minneapolis Public Library provides a daily calendar of events and what's new in internet resources.

Hennepin County Library includes custom catalog searches, events, and booklists, and other items in a list of RSS offerings that would make any librarian salivate.

What could you use RSS for at your library?


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