Browse-and-wait, browse-and-wait. Did you ever try to check twenty web sites every day for news? How about fifty? one hundred? Entering all the addresses, clicking on icons, waiting for web pages to display in your browser, and all the other delays makes for a waste of time.
Wouldn’t it be nice if all your web browser's bookmarks could in some way tell you if a site has new data on it since the last time you checked? Your computer would only display the new changes, ignoring any sites that have not changed since the last time? RSS does that and does it well.
Most all news sites, blogs, and other web sites with frequently-changing information now offer RSS feeds. RSS (Really Simple Syndication) has many uses but perhaps the most popular is to simplify the process of users checking the site for newly-posted information. The EOGN (Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter) web site has supplied RSS feeds for more than four years and more than 1,000 people now use an RSS reader every day to check for new articles on the site. I assume those same people use their RSS readers to check other web sites as well.
With most any modern RSS reader, you can access information faster and more easily than with regular web browsers. There is no need to type in URLs, wait for pages to load, search through web pages or to navigate between web sites. Better yet, you can view all information later in offline mode at your convenience; you don't have to be connected when reading the new information (although your computer obviously needs to be connected when it scans all the sites for new information).
RSS is very non-intrusive; it will not get in your way. It only checks and notifies you of changes whenever you tell it to.
I use an RSS reader to frequently check a number of genealogy web sites, Google News (looking for local news stories for the town where I live), the latest weather report for my ZIP code, one ham radio site, several sports car sites, and the latest stock prices of several stocks that I monitor. My RSS reader also checks eBay and Craig's List looking for a center console for a 1996 Corvette; I bet my RSS reader will find it as soon as such a console is listed. I can do more with an RSS reader in five minutes than I could ever accomplish with a web browser in an hour.
RSS readers are now available for Windows, Macintosh, Linux, iPhone, Windows Mobile cell phones, and many other devices.
RSS is rather simple in operation. It is essentially a way to bookmark a site by using an RSS reader and then having the RSS reader check for updates whenever you wish.
The technology behind all this is slightly more complicated but that technology is well hidden. You don't need to understand RSS in order to use it. However, I can tell you that RSS is a family of web feed formats used to publish frequently updated works such as blog entries, news headlines, audio, and video in a standardized format. An RSS document (which is called a "feed") includes full or summarized text plus metadata such as publishing dates and authorship. RSS web feeds are great for readers who want to subscribe to timely updates from favorite websites or to aggregate feeds from many sites into one place. RSS feeds can be read using software called an "RSS reader," "feed reader," or an "aggregator," which can be web-based or desktop-based.
RSS feeds are available on almost all blogs and news sites (including this newsletter's web site) , as well as on many sites that offer weather forecasts, stock market information, online auction services, job posting sites, and other web sites that offer frequently-changing information.
The user subscribes to a feed by entering the feed's link into the RSS reader or by clicking an RSS icon in a browser that initiates the subscription process. The RSS reader checks the user's subscribed feeds regularly for newly-posted information, downloads any updates that it finds, and provides a user interface to monitor and read the feeds.
You'll find disagreement over the meaning of the letters "RSS." Some documents will state that RSS stands for "Really Simple Syndication" while others will claim that it stands for "RDF Site Summary" or "Rich Site Summary." Whatever the meaning, the results are the same: a quick and easy method of finding updates to online sites. In summary, RSS, if supported by the site, it is a notification system to alert you when a site has new content for you to read.
Many RSS clients have appeared in the past few years. Some are web-based, which strikes me as the worst way to use RSS. In a web-based RSS client, you go to an RSS aggregator web site, create an account there, and then the web site collects data from the other web sites that you specify. The big drawbacks are (1.) you have to be connected online to use a web-based RSS client and (2.) the speed of the reader and its ability to display information quickly are limited by your connection speed. If you want to read the latest articles during your morning commute on the train while not connected, a web-based RSS client is useless. Even if connected online, a slow connection can result in a waste of time.
I prefer to use RSS client software that installs in my own computer and lately have been using one installed in my Apple iPhone cell phone. With RSS client software installed in the computer or cell phone, the new data is added quickly while connected online. I can then disconnect and read the new articles at my leisure, even while riding the commuter train. The display times are almost instantaneous as all data is retrieved from the computer's memory or hard drive. You do not need to wait for data to be retrieved online.
A list of all available RSS clients is beyond the scope of this article as there are hundreds of such readers available. However, you can find a very long list that is updated frequently at http://www.newsonfeeds.com/faq/aggregators. That list includes clients for Windows, Macintosh, Linux, many handheld devices, as well as others that are web-based. Most of the RSS clients (or aggregators) are available free of charge.
I will offer one piece of advice: if you have a Macintosh or an Apple iPhone, look at NetNewsWire at http://www.newsgator.com/Individuals/NetNewsWire/ for the Macintosh version and at http://www.newsgator.com/Individuals/NetNewsWireiPhone/ for the iPhone version.
I have used a number of RSS clients over the years and find that I prefer NetNewsWire. It is simple, fast, and free.
To me, the greatest thing about RSS is that it allows my web reading to be done on my own terms. At a glance, I know which sites have new articles, and I can deal with each article when I have free time. I do not need to worry about a site's article getting buried under other newer articles, as the RSS system keeps track of what I have and have not read. I can read more articles in a shorter period of time.