Librarians, technologists, and other information-centric fellow travelers have been singing the praises of a not-so-new technology for years: RSS, which stands for Really Simple Syndication. RSS is the technology that allows Blogs (web diaries and commentaries) to be distributed throughout the web, and also is an increasingly popular way for information stored in various databases to be discovered both by websites and the people who read them. For example, National Public Radio and the New York Times both offer a wide array of RSS Feeds . The most popular way to access RSS is what is known as an RSS Reader. Bloglines and Google Reader are two popular RSS Readers .
Fine, you might say, but why should I care? I have email. I have a web browser. Why would I want yet another way to access the same information?
The major advantage of using an RSS Reader over other information-gathering tools is that the RSS Reader keeps track of what is new and provides various ways of clipping, storing, organizing, and sharing this information with others. If you keep track of 20 blogs or other information sources, an RSS reader will check them automatically and let you know when there is new material. You can even read that material from within the RSS Reader, and thus avoid having to learn the navigation and typographic conventions of each individual blog.
Okay. An RSS Reader is more efficient. But I still need to be convinced: what useful information can I find via an RSS Reader?
Wesleyan publishes a wide-array of information that can be read via an RSS-Reader, including our events calendar, our classified ads, announcements on the home page, and a feed of what’s new in the library catalog. There are also a small number of Blogs that our community publishes that you may want to read. We’ve created a set of links to these feeds, as well as a collection of feeds that we think might be of interest to the Wesleyan community at http://www.wesleyan.edu/libr/rss/ . Increasingly publishers of newspapers, magazines, and journals are creating RSS feeds of their materials. (We began to suspect that it was time to introduce the idea of RSS to the Wesleyan community when we heard the Car Talk guys talking about their RSS feed (see http://www.cartalk.com/Radio/rss.html )).
I’m sort of convinced. So what RSS Reader do you recommend?
There are three main types of RSS Reader: 1) Web-based readers are distinct from the other three types because they do not ‘live’ on your own computer. You access them via the Web. There is no software to download and you are not tied to a particular machine. Bloglines and Google Reader work this way. 2) Some web browsers, notably Firefox with its “Live Bookmarks,” can handle RSS. 3) There are a number of stand-alone desktop readers. Many of them are free, though some come with a price tag. We’ve set up a page at http://www.wesleyan.edu/libr/rss/readers.htm that provides an overview of these various readers. A second page at http://www.wesleyan.edu/libr/rss/feeds.html offers guidance on how and where to find feeds of interest to you.
To get started with RSS, we recommend either using the Live Bookmarks feature within Firefox, or creating an account on Bloglines . (We’ve also created a brief movie on how to use Bloglines for those who want more detailed information about the possibilities of RSS, available at http://www.wesleyan.edu/libr/rss/bloglines.html .)