If you were to pick between visiting the free Standard Edition newsletter on the Web or having the same articles automatically delivered to you every time a new one is published, which would you choose? For those who prefer automatic delivery, there's a really simple solution. In fact, it's called Really Simple Syndication, or RSS for short. Instead of navigating to various Web sites to read news articles, an RSS "feed" can automatically deliver the news to your computer so that you can read the news at your convenience. An RSS/XML feed of this newsletter has been available for some time.
RSS/XML feeds can update headlines from many different sources on your computer's screen whenever it is running. This newsletter, other genealogy newsletters, CNN, sports news, the New York Times, local weather forecasts, stock market reports, the Joke of the Day and much, much more are all available via automated RSS news feeds.
NOTE: For those who like technical terms, XML is a second cousin of sorts to HTML, the markup language used to create many Web pages. RSS, an offspring of XML, displays information in a format that you can read with an RSS reader. Do not get lost in this sea of new buzzwords; you can easily install and use RSS newsreaders without knowing the meanings of any of this terminology.
RSS news feeds work with Windows, Macintosh, and Linux computers. You do not need to go to the Web and click your way through page after the page; the information typically is delivered to your computer in a background task while you do other things. News content can fly to your desktop faster than you can say, "What's new?"
In some ways, RSS delivery is somewhat like e-mail: you can configure it to deliver data to your computer whenever you wish. The big difference between RSS and e-mail is that RSS never, ever delivers spam, viruses, or any other unwanted messages. You only receive the news feeds that you specify.
Getting started is easier than you think. All you need to do is download and install a free RSS reader program. Then you add the following link to your RSS reader: http://eogn.typepad.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/index.rdf
That's all! Now you need not miss a newsletter article again. Each article will automatically be delivered to your computer. The RSS reader runs in the background as long as you are connected to the Internet. It will work on dial-up connections as well as on full-time broadband connections. In fact, RSS news feeds are a big time and money saver for those using dial-up connections. The information is delivered at the maximum speed possible to your computer whenever you are connected to the Internet, and it gets stored on your hard drive. You can then disconnect from the Internet and read the news articles while disconnected, at your leisure. Besides the convenience, this technique saves a lot of money for those who pay by the minute for long-distance connections or who connect via cell phones. You can also retrieve RSS newsfeeds onto your laptop in the morning when getting ready for work, and then read the information on the laptop while riding on the commuter train with no Internet connection.
In fact, those who use slower dial-up connections often prefer RSS readers in place of Web browsers since all the requested data is downloaded as a background task and stored on the computer's hard drive. When the user later goes to look at the information, the data appears almost instantly on the screen as it is fetched from the local hard drive, not from the Internet. The user does not need to wait for data to download over a slow Internet connection in the manner of a Web browser. Using an RSS reader can save a lot of time, especially if you wish to monitor changing information on a number of web sites. The result is a faster and more pleasant user experience.
Of course, you are not limited to this newsletter. There are thousands of Web logs (blogs) published in RSS format today, including a number of genealogy-related Web logs. Other data available in RSS format includes the New York Times, politics, breaking news, technology news, sports, stock market information, movies, and the latest weather reports for your hometown. Your free RSS reader program can retrieve as many of them as you wish. One program can retrieve one, five, ten or even hundreds of RSS news feeds. Your RSS reader will gather information related to any areas of interest you specify and deposit the information directly on your desktop. So, in effect, if you don't visit the site, the headlines pretty visit your PC.
There are many RSS readers available. Most install in your computer although one popular reader is Web based. Each displays information in a style that the program's authors think is best.
Here is a list of the more popular free RSS readers and the locations where you can find them:
- FeedReader for Windows 95 and later is my current favorite free Windows RSS news reader. It is simple to install, simple to use, and very fast in operation. I can especially recommend FeedReader for older computers with slower processors or a limited amount of memory. Of course, on a high-speed, modern Windows computer everything seems to operate in a blink of an eye: http://www.feedreader.com
- RssReader for Windows 98 and later: http://www.rssreader.com
- SharpReader for Windows 98 or later: http://www.sharpreader.net (SharpReader has a very easy-to-use interface. However, it requires Microsoft's .NET libraries be loaded before installing this program. If you already have .NET libraries installed, adding SharpReader is easy. Many computer novices will encounter difficulties if .NET is not already installed on their computers. Finding, downloading and installing .NET can be a bit difficult for someone who is not familiar with the terminology. In short, if you do not know what .NET is, I suggest you skip SharpReader.)
- BlogExpress for Windows 98 or later: http://www.usablelabs.com/productBlogExpress.html
- NetNewsWire Lite for Macintosh OS X 10.2 (Jaguar) or later. This is by far the most popular Macintosh RSS reader. It is available in two versions: a free Lite version and a full version for $39.95. The full version has more features; you may wish to try the 30-day free demo of the full version. However, I suggest you start with the Lite version; it is free forever. http://ranchero.com/netnewswire
- Akregator for Linux: http://akregator.sourceforge.net
- Bloglines, a Web-based RSS newsreader. Bloglines allows you to read many different RSS news feeds without installing any software on your computer. The downside is that Bloglines does not automatically deliver the news to you; you still have to open a Web browser and connect to Bloglines' Web site to read your articles. Nonetheless, it is an easy way to get started with RSS news feeds without the need to install software on your computer: http://www.bloglines.com
The above is an abbreviated list; there are many more free and commercial RSS readers. As the commercial programs move into the price range of $20 to $35, the number of features increases. However, I recommend that you start with one of the free RSS newsreader programs to become familiar with RSS. Once you have some familiarity with the topic, you will be better able to select the features that you want in a commercial program. Many people, myself included, never upgrade to paid RSS newsreader programs. There are many free RSS newsreader programs, and you can probably find one to meet your needs and skill level.
Once you have installed an RSS reader, you need RSS feeds to read. Each feed is just like the address of a Web page. All you need to do is use the "subscribe" function of your RSS reader to start receiving updates from a particular feed. To subscribe to this newsletter, copy-and-paste the following address into your RSS reader's "subscribe" function: http://eogn.typepad.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/index.rdf. EOGN's Other Genealogy News is available at http://eogn.typepad.com/othernews/index.rdf.
RSS news feeds and newsreaders are addictive. Once you discover how fast and easy it is to monitor 20 or more changing news sites, you will probably never want to use regular web browser again to look at them. Use of a good RSS newsreader is much faster and easier than doing the same thing in a normal web browser.
Welcome to a whole new Internet experience with RSS. It really is Really Simple!