I suspect the majority of Internet users still do not know what an RSS feed is. That's too bad because a newsfeed can speed up your web usage greatly, provide more information to you, and make your life easier in the process. Comparing a web browser to an RSS newsreader is somewhat similar to comparing a tricycle to a Ferrari. Surprisingly, RSS news feeds are simple to use - usually simpler than a web browser.
RSS newsfeeds are a great way to get news, information, and articles you want from websites, especially blogs, quickly and easily. Every day I encounter people who still don't know what an RSS newsfeed is, or how it might help them. I decided to write this article to help "spread the word."
RSS, or "Really Simple Syndication," started out as a way to distribute news updates to people. It has since grown into a way of distributing product alerts, weather forecasts, stock quotes, and genealogy newsletter articles. In fact, this newsletter has been offering RSS feeds of its articles for more than three years.
An RSS newsfeed is another way of viewing web pages. If you are reading this article on the www.eogn.com website, with all the layout and graphics intact, you are seeing all the articles, along with all the ads, the links down the right side, and the design graphics. It works well. However, if you want to view 50 or 100 such sites, you will need to spend hours navigating from site to site.
There is a faster and easier way to view this site and thousands of other sites. Since seeing is believing, I invite you to see how I've use an RSS feed to consolidate news from a number of sources. Click this link to open a new window or tab to view this site's feed: http://www.eogn.com/all-the-news/index.rdf.
Now, this particular method is rather primitive but it does show how to read an RSS newsfeed. You can see the most recent articles in chronological order, without all the bells and whistles. You just see the text and some graphics embedded within those articles.
This example does not show how to save time but I will cover that within a few paragraphs.
The real power of RSS news feeds is when you use programs called "feed readers." These programs take feed links - like the one above - and add them to a directory or list of newsfeeds, also known as feed bookmarks. They keep track of all the newsfeeds you have chosen your favorite websites. Then, with a click or two, you can quickly move down the list, viewing the updated posts from the feeds on your favorite websites. You can have 50 newsfeeds or 100 or even more in the list. One or two mouseclicks will show you all the latest articles from any one site. Want to check another site? One more mouseclick, and you see that list more or less instantly.
How does this benefit web users?
If you have used your browser "favorites" or "bookmarks" or typed in the URL/address for favorite websites that you go to repeatedly to check for new posts, you understand how long it takes to type in the address and wait for the page to load. Most people learn to use bookmarks; but even then, you must wait for the page to load.
RSS newsreaders that run in your computer normally download the pages for you as a background task while you are doing something else, such as reading the first page. Yes, while you are reading one page of information, the newsreader can be downloading dozens of pages and storing them on your hard drive. When you go to read them, the articles display immediately at the full speed of your computer. You never have to wait for a page to download.
The slower your Internet connection, the greater the benefit of using RSS newsfeeds. If you are using a dial-up connection to read articles such as this one, you can save yourself a lot of time by using an RSS newsfeed reader!
With a feed reader, you click on the address, and within a second or two the text from the most recent articles, news, and posts appears on your screen. If they are grayed out, you have probably read them, so you can move down the list to the newest content. Within a few minutes, you have read through 10 or more favorite websites, catching up on the news, where it might have taken you at least twice as long before.
RSS newsfeeds are better than e-mail subscriptions, in my opinion. For one thing, you remain in control. You can add newsfeeds or drop them yourself at any time within 2 or 3 seconds. You do not have to go through some arcane gyrations to unsubscribe. Two or three mouseclicks is all that is required, and it is the same on every newsfeed you receive, unlike e-mail subscriptions. If that newsfeed you subscribed to yesterday turns out to be filled with advertising, just CLICK, and you will never see it again.
There are hundreds of RSS newsreaders to choose from, and most of them are available free of charge. A few cost money but do offer advanced features. My current favorite is NetNewsWire for the Macintosh. The "Lite version" is available free of charge while a commercial version with more features costs $29.95. I'd suggest you try the free version and do not upgrade to the commercial version until you learn what it can do for you. Many users are very happy with the Lite version and never upgrade.
Windows users have probably more than 100 RSS newsreaders to choose from. I haven't tried them all, but here are some of the more popular ones:
NewzCrawler at http://www.newzcrawler.com
Omea Reader at http://www.jetbrains.com/omea/reader/
NewsGator Inbox for Outlook at http://www.newsgator.com/
SharpReader at http://www.sharpreader.net/
In addition, you can find built-in RSS newsreaders in Firefox and other web browsers. However, I find the web browser-based readers to be slower and more cumbersome than the dedicated readers. Still, they are free and do not require the installation of any more software.
Finally, you can use an online RSS reader. Yes, you can go to a web site to read other web sites! Again, I find this to be slow, especially for dial-up usage. The web-based RSS newsreaders cannot download pages in advance as a background process. You normally have to wait for every page, a painful process on dial-up. Do yourself a favor: install a dedicated RSS newsreader. I think you'll be glad that you did.
Not every website comes with feeds, though most should by now. Almost all news sites, blogs, and most other sites with frequently changing information now offer RSS newsfeeds.
To find genealogy newsfeeds, go to any search engine and search for the following:
You can narrow that list down by being more specific. For instance, if you are interested in RSS newsfeeds about genealogy software for the Macintosh, go to any search engine and search for:
genealogy rss macintosh
Of course, genealogy is not the only topic available via RSS news feeds. You can find tens of thousands of such feeds about a wide variety of topics.
If you own a web site, you can also put RSS newsfeeds on your website that come from external sites. This is a neat way of including more and/or related information from external sources, or to include information from another website or blog you own. If you own a genealogy web site, you can automatically add articles from this newsletter and other genealogy publications to your own site, if the authors allow it. (I do allow republishing of this newsletter's articles on non-commercial web sites.) Several months ago, I wrote a Plus edition article entitled "How to Automatically Add Articles to your Web Site" That article is available for $2.00 at http://www.lulu.com/content/827190.
Whether you own a web site or you simply read web sites, I'd suggest that you get to know and understand how RSS newsfeeds work and how they can benefit you. They can provide more information with less work. That's a pretty good combination!