What is RSS?
With billions of web pages online today, keeping up-to-date with the information you want can be a drag. Wouldn't it be easier to have the latest news and features delivered directly to you, rather than you clicking from site to site?
That is the purpose of RSS: to deliver the information you want directly to you. Sometimes this is called "push technology" in which information of your choosing is delivered directly, or "pushed," to you. The opposite would be a web browser on the World Wide Web where you have to go out and find, or "pull," the information you seek.
You can have information pushed to you, thanks to a very clever web file format called RSS. A small piece of software in your PC or Macintosh will periodically poll the sites you specify and automatically retrieve any data that is offered in RSS format. All this happens as a background process while you may be doing other things with your computer, such as reading e-mail, writing a document in a word processor, playing computer games, or whatever other activities you normally do with your computer. You can display the retrieved information whenever you wish.
Because the data is transferred in background, connection speeds are not terribly important. Who cares if it is a slow connection when you are using the computer for something else? RSS will store the data on your hard drive and then display it whenever you want. Because the data is on your hard drive, it appears on-screen almost instantly, much faster than waiting for a web page to load. RSS is a great tool for anyone using a dial-up connection at 56 kilobaud or slower. I also use RSS through a slow cellular wireless modem when traveling. I even use it with my high-speed connection at home, just for the convenience of having information delivered directly to me instead of going to a bunch of web sites to get it.
There is some discussion as to what RSS stands for, but the majority of users settle for "Really Simple Syndication." Whatever the meaning, RSS allows you to identify the content you like and have it delivered to you automatically. It takes the hassle out of staying up-to-date by showing you the very latest information that you are interested in.
Not all websites currently provide RSS, but it is growing rapidly in popularity. The sites that offer it list the service as a choice of "RSS feeds" from which you can choose the topics you want "fed" to your computer. This newsletter has several RSS feeds, as do many other genealogy sites, the New York Times, BBC News, CNN and the U.S. government's NOAA weather alerts.
How do I start using RSS feeds?
In general, the first thing you need is something called a news reader. There are many different versions, some of which you access with a browser, and some of which you download to your computer. All allow you to display and subscribe to the RSS feeds you want. You can find a long list of available RSS news readers for Windows, Macintosh, and Linux, as well as Palm and PocketPC handheld computers, at http://www.eogn.com/rss-newsreaders.htm. This list is updated frequently as new programs become available. You will note that many of the RSS news readers are available free of charge.
Once you have chosen a news reader, all you have to do is decide what content you want. For example, if you would like the latest stories from this newsletter, simply visit http://www.eogn.com and click on "Subscribe to this blog's feed." (Look for the orange "RSS" buttons in the left-side menus.) There you will see instructions to enter the following address into your RSS news reader: http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/index.rdf
Some browsers, including Firefox, Opera, and Safari, have functionality that automatically picks up RSS feeds for you. For more details on these, please check their websites.
Using this newsletter's News RSS feeds on your site
If you are the webmaster of a genealogy-related web site, you may be interested to know that you can place an RSS news reader on your web site that will display the current RSS feeds from other sites. Once you install the RSS software on your site, information is updated automatically all the time with no need for you to do anything. Your users will always see the latest news you choose to provide.
I generally encourage the use of any RSS feed from Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter on other web sites. This will add up-to-date content to your genealogy web site. Please check with me first, however, and also please make it obvious that the information originated here.