Thursday, April 13, 2006

"DSS feeds or whatever ... it all seems a bit complicated"

This is a direct quotation from my mother; I was trying introduce her to RSS feeds so she would be able to keep up with various family members' blogs. My early explanations were evidently not simple enough, so in the end I put together the below as a dummy's mummy's guide to getting set up with RSS feeds.

RSS – an acronym often expanded as "really simple syndication" – is a way of being notified when a website you're interested in is updated, to save you having to keep going to check it. To use it, you need a feed reader. This is a bit of software which is either desktop or web-based. You can tell it which websites you're interested in, and it will periodically check and retrieve updates from those websites.

The one I use is a web-based one so I can check it from various computers. It is called Bloglines: http://www.bloglines.com/1, and having tried a few different readers, I have found it the simplest and quickest to configure, with sufficient (and appropriate) functionality to meet my needs. To set it up:

1. Register: http://www.bloglines.com/register/
This gives you an account to set up with all the feeds you want to read, and you can sign up for some initial feeds on the page you get when you click on the link in the confirmation email (e.g. you could choose "Music lover" from the list on the left, and then sign up for the BBC Music News feed by clicking that box. Or you could choose to be sent Dictionary.com's Word of the Day from the list on the right.)

2. Download the Notifier: http://www.bloglines.com/about/notifier
Choose the appropriate one for your operating system (e.g. Windows, Mac) – this puts a little icon in your system tray (bottom right area of your screen) which will tell you when there are new items in your chosen feeds. The notifier download can also be accessed via the Extras section in My Feeds (Download Notifier).

3. Add some feeds!
Ongoing, the easiest way (I find) to add a feed to your Bloglines account is to browse to the page from which you want to receive a feed, and press a "subscribe to this feed (or blog)" button. You can get the "easy subscribe" code as a bookmark from the "My Feeds" section extras – see "Easy Subscribe Bookmarklet". Once you've got it in your links toolbar, you simply click on it to locate and subscribe to the RSS feed for a web page – try it from this page to see what I mean!

Web pages usually have one of the following orange symbols to indicate that an RSS feed is available: But you can try clicking your "subscribe" button on any page; if the site doesn't have RSS, you will just get a message saying that Bloglines couldn't find an RSS feed for that page. If a feed is available, it might be in multiple formats but don't worry, Bloglines is able to cope with any of them so it doesn't really matter which one you choose. You can subdivide your feeds into folders to help keep on top of them.

You can also set up search feeds that will search all Bloglines-known blogs/sites for a specific term and alert you when it is mentioned; I do this to find out what people are saying about Ingenta. You need to search for your chosen keyword(s) in the box on the top right, and then click "Subscribe to this search" on the results page.

1As the good old BBC would put it, "other feed readers are available": many are as good and perhaps better in some respects than Bloglines. There are useful summaries/analyses of the most popular RSS readers at SearchEngineWatch. If you're brave, there's a pretty comprehensive, and helpfully annotated, list of available readers at http://allrss.com/rssreaders.html. ALPSP members who want to find out more should check out ALPSP's advice note 31 on RSS feeds.


N.B. This post syndicated from Ingenta's All My Eye blog with kind permission :)

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