The following article was originally published in this newsletter on August 18, 2004. The underlying technology remains the same since then but all the software products and all the links listed in the 2004 article are now out of date. The following is an updated version of the original article.
You may have noticed that this newsletter and several other genealogy Web sites are now available via RSS news feeds. So are thousands of other Web news sites covering a wide variety of topics. This article will hopefully explain what RSS feeds are and what they can offer you.
RSS is an abbreviation for "Rich Site Summary" or "Really Simple Syndication." Most people don’t need to remember this expansion any more than they would spell out “ATM.” As to the word “feed,” this simply describes the way information gets to people: web servers “feed” their information to those who ask for it. For those who want more technical details, RSS feeds are composed in XML, a format that is similar to HTML, the standard language in which many Web pages are created.
For a detailed explanation of RSS, look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rss
RSS began to appear several years ago but has only recently moved into the mainstream. RSS is safe and secure; an excellent method of avoiding the flood of Internet security problems and email overload. RSS has become a popular way for news publishers to provide information without sending computer users to different Web sites, cluttering their email with spam, or exposing them to adware, spyware, worms, or viruses. These factors make it equally attractive to those who read their information. RSS is especially useful for those who find that their email service is over zealous about deleting spam mail. Many mail servers will delete unwanted spam and wanted email messages alike. RSS avoids the many problems of spam filters.
Thousands of commercial web sites and blogs publish content summaries in RSS feeds, including Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter, almost all blogs, newspapers, stock market reports, sports pages, weather forecasts, and more. Each item in the feed typically contains a headline; article summary, and link to the full online article. Many webmasters have discovered they can easily use RSS feeds to provide fresh web content. It works better than e-mail newsletters, providing up-to-date information at any moment in time, but never blocked by spam filters.
The benefits of RSS feeds are not limited to webmasters; those who wish to read the content benefit from the technology as well. The beauty of RSS is that readers can quickly scan headlines (titles) and then read only the articles that interest them. Because the information is condensed and provided in a single location, readers can generally review more information in much less time. Additional information is only a click away. Best of all, readers choose the feeds they wish to see. There is no spam or other unwanted material with RSS.
The reader is always in complete control. You choose the feeds you want, and if you are not completely thrilled with the content of a feed, you simply delete it from your personal list of feeds. Creating a list of feeds you are interested in is referred to as "subscribing." Likewise, you can unsubscribe from any or all the feeds within seconds.
RSS technology is a “pull” technology rather than “push” technology, meaning that the content is not forced on the consumers; instead, they “pull” to their screen the content they want to see. Readers use a special “RSS newsreader” program that pulls the desired articles from the Web to the user’s PC or Mac or cell phone, where the information sits until the user is ready to look at it.
Using a newsreader to pull RSS feeds allows users to:
1. Easily locate information.
2. Read condensed information with clearly marked and dated topic material.
3. Classify and categorize information in an easy-to-navigate manner.
4. Maximize their time without having to deal with spam.
The newsreader frequently updates its contents and shows unread feeds. I found the newsreaders to work a lot like a simple email program. Anyone with an RSS newsreader installed simply enters the URL of any RSS feed of interest, such as http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/atom.xml. Topics with a common theme can be grouped together. For example, someone interested in genealogy might put this newsletter and all their other genealogy RSS feeds together in one folder called “Genealogy,” just as they might do with email messages or even the files on their computer.
You can find many free RSS newsreaders for Windows, Macintosh, iPhone, Windows Mobile, and Linux. In addition, you can also find several web-based RSS newsreaders. Simply open a web browser, go to the online RSS newsreader you you have previously configured, and read the latest articles of your choice.
The advantage of online newsletters include no software to download to your computer as well as being available anywhere you have a web connection. Whether you are at home, at the office, in a hotel room, or waiting at an airport, you can connect to your web-based RSS news reader at any time and read the latest news.
The biggest downside to online RSS news readers, in my mind, is that they are slower than newsreaders that run in your computer. You are always limited by the speed of your Internet connection. However, RSS newsreaders installed in your computer are limited only by the speed of your processor, memory, and hard drive. Internally-installed RSS newsreaders download information in the background while you are doing other tasks and operate quickly even on slow dial-up connections.
Here is a list of some of the better known RSS newsreaders:
Google's RSS feed reader is probably the most popular online RSS newsreader of today, not only mimicking the best of what desktop readers can do but also mashing up nicely with other Google services, like the iGoogle home page. You can read a lengthy review of Google Reader at http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,1759,2007522,00.asp
A personalized start page with an emphasis on widgets and feed readers, Netvibes also aggregates podcasts for you. A nice product, but not as well known as Google Reader. You can read a lengthy review of Netvibes at http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2265703,00.asp
Probably the most popular RSS newsreader for Windows, the FeedDemon desktop newsreader is simple to use, runs quickly, and is available free of charge. It is also extremely customizable to suit how you read feeds. You can read a lengthy review of FeedDemon at http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,1948579,00.asp
Directly sync this reader with your online feeds at Google Reader or NewsGator Online. You'll get fast browsing on the desktop, but still have access to your feeds over the Web using other PCs.
It won't win awards for visual innovation, but Snarfer does provide simplicity. It's arguably the best way to handle straight-up RSS info gathering and reading, and it's available in over 20 languages.
This is my favorite RSS newsreader for any operating system. It is quite powerful but remains easy to use. It is produced by the same company that offers FeedDemon for Windows but is a totally different product. It doesn't even resemble FeedDemon. NetNewsWire integrates with several other Macintosh applications including iCal and iPhoto to help you share as well as read. NetNewsWire also integrates nicely with Google Reader, allowing you to keep both Google Reader and NetNewsWire installed on multiple Macs in sync. You never read the same article twice when using multiple Macs and/or Google Reader online. You can read a lengthy review of NetNewsWire at http://www.macworld.com/article/135359/2008/09/netnewswire3.html
iPHONE and iPod Touch
You can find dozens of RSS newsreaders for the iPhone. The following is a list of some of the more popular ones available today. All of the following can be obtained from the iPhone App Store:
NetNewsWire iPhone (Free with advertising or $4.99 for no ads)
A lightweight, easy application for keeping up with feeds on the go. NetNewsWire for iPhone syncs with the Newsgator servers for your subscription list, clippings, and read/unread status. And like the desktop version it's free.
Pro RSS Reader (Free or $1.99)
A basic RSS newsreader that does the basics and does them well. The paid version also synchronizes read items with Google Reader and Newsgator.
Manifesto is one of the easiest to use RSS readers for the iPhone operating system, with a clean, smart interface, flagging and offline viewing support, a variety of options from which to add new feeds, and a well-implemented built-in browser view.
iNews Lite (Free) and iNews Premium ($3.99)
The most complete sharing option in RSS Reader: Mail, Instapaper, ReadItLater, Evernote, Delicious, Twitter, Facebook, synchronizes with Google Reader
With any of these RSS newsreaders, you can read this newsletter by typing or pasting in the Web address of http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/atom.xml. Your newsreader will periodically poll the newsletter to find any new articles. Whenever it finds new content, the new articles will be displayed in your RSS newsreader. All this happens in background; you can read the articles at your leisure.
RSS has effectively standardized the format for content delivery, distribution, and syndication. RSS will likely rival email as a means of content distribution in another few years. The shear simplicity makes the technology very appealing.
The RSS news feed of this newsletter may be found at http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/atom.xml.