RSS - bringing the latest syndicated news feeds to a desktop near you


Technofile: As useful as email is, it is also the utter bane of modern working life. Quite simply, there is too much of it. So a new technology that could help reduce the amount of email you get is no bad thing.

Many of us subscribe to email alerts from various news websites. However, a new way of receiving those news headlines could mean you never need to wade through those news alerts again.

It's called RSS, or Really Simple Syndication.

An RSS "feed" is simply a format of webpage code in something called XML.

Like most webpages, if you read the underlying source code it would look like gobbledygook.

But plug the link on the RSS page into specially designed software called an RSS reader, and the news from that website appears in an easy-to-read list of headlines and stories, all in a neat list of sites and stories.

For example, news service Reuters produces an RSS feed that contains a list of the current top articles, containing only the headline, link and description of each article.

No heavy graphics, no annoying pop-up ads, nothing. Just plain, simple text.

RSS readers allow you to subscribe to RSS feeds much as Web browsers allow you to view webpages.

The RSS reader will automatically update on a regular schedule that you define, and display the new articles from the feeds you have plugged into it.

Some RSS readers notify you when a new item has appeared from one of your feeds.

The format for consuming information this way has a lot of interesting possibilities. For starters, you can whisk through the content of several sites that provide an RSS feed far faster than if you fired up every website individually.

So how do you get started?

The first step is to download an RSS reader.

There are many RSS readers available, some free and some that you have to pay for.

Most paid-for ones allow you to use them for a limited amount of time for free.

I can suggest NewsGator, SharpReader, FeedReader, and FeedDemon. If you have a Mac, NetNewsWire or NewsFire are popular choices.

So you have your RSS reader. Now what?

Subscribe to RSS feeds, of course!

First, select RSS feeds from the websites that interest you, if they provide them.

These are either explicitly called RSS, or sometimes "Atom" feeds, but most commonly they are marked out by a small orange button with the letters "XML" on it.

Copy that link into your clipboard.

Then return to your RSS reader and follow the instructions for your particular reader for adding a new feed - usually this is a button marked "Subscribed" or "Subscriptions". Click "Save".

Next, click on "refresh subscriptions".

As if by magic, all the latest headlines from your chosen sites will appear in the RSS reader, without your even having to lift a finger.

Your next task - should you choose to accept it - is to cancel your subscriptions to all the news alert emails that clog up your inbox and you never have time to read anyway.

Now replace these with RSS feeds.

Happy RSS-ing!