Thing 24: Control the Info Flow with RSS & Feed Readers

Our next topic is all about RSS, a cryptic and perhaps scary sounding acronym. I have to admit, RSS Used To Scare Me!

INTRODUCTION

What is RSS? Simply put, RSS is a way to subscribe to and automatically receive updates from blogs, news sites and more. Just like you might subscribe to a paper magazine and new issues arrive in your mailbox without you having to do anything. With RSS, when a new post is published on your favorite blog or news site, you’ll get notified. How you’re notified depends on the tools you use. More on tools below.

RSS can also let you gather & share information too. As an example, each of you set up a blog to share your reflections during this program. All of your blogs automatically have an RSS feed built in. You didn’t need to set it up, it’s just there as part of the blogging software. I took all those RSS feeds (really just a funny looking URL) and used a tool that smushes them together to create a single page CoolTools blogs page that lists all the blog posts from all your blogs. Now whenever anyone visits that page, they’ll see an up-to-date list of all your recent blog posts. RSS automatically pulls the lists of latest posts to the page. Time saving magic! Cool, eh?

Why use it?

Keeping up with information on the Web is a challenge, sometimes an overwhelming one. Back in the early days of the Web, we could check out one or two “site of the day” services and feel like we were keeping up. Not any more! Keeping up with even a single topic now requires lots of searching and sifting through content.

If you read more than just a few blogs or visit news sites frequently, you might find you’re spending a lot time going back to each site to see if there’s anything new. If a blogger hasn’t posted anything in a week or two or if there isn’t any breaking news on your favorite web site, then you’re spending a lot of time for no return. And even though many of us rely on our Facebook or Twitter streams to catch the latest news, that can still be very hit or miss.

By using an RSS feed reader tool like Feedly or InoReader, you can save you lots of time by letting the feed reader do all the time consuming & tedious work of checking all your favorite blogs and news sites for you. When you visit your feed reader you’ll see a nicely organized list of anything that’s new on all the blogs and news sites you follow. This is a handy way to save tons of time!

To see how it works, check out this quick video.  NOTE: The video was done in 2007 and some of the specific tools mentioned don’t exist anymore. But it’s still a really good explanation of the basic idea and there are newer tools that do the same things – more on those below.

So, What’s RSS?

RSS is short for “Really Simple Syndication”, which sounds complicated, but it’s really just a way for delivering regularly updated information over the Web. It’s very much like subscribing to a print magazine or newspaper that gets delivered to your mailbox or front door whenever a new issue is published. This saves you the hassle of having to go to your local newstand everyday to check for the latest issues. Similarly, you can subscribe to the RSS feed of your favorite blogs and news sites and get the latest information from those sites delivered to you, rather than having to check the sites over and over for updates.

If you’re curious about how RSS works, this is a nice introduction:  A really simple guide to really simple syndication (RSS)

What kinds of sites have RSS?

Look for sites that are have frequent updates, they’re the most likely to have an RSS feed. These are some of the types of sites that have RSS feeds:

  • Blogs come with RSS built right in. So if it’s a blog, it will have an RSS feed.
  • News sites like CNN and NPR
  • Research databases – Check out the Gale, Ebsco & other databases (or “search apps”) available through your library. They should have RSS feeds for subject searches that will send you updates whenever a new article is published on your topic of interest. Great for students doing research and wanting to keep up to date on the latest articles. Note that the the RSS might be called something like “search alert” rather than RSS.
  • Bookmark sharing services like diigo – get updates on new sites that have been added for topics you’re interested in
  • YouTube & flickr – you can subscribe to all the videos/photos from a particular user account.
  • Book Publishers – get updates on their latest publications
  • Magazines – receive headlines and content from their latest issues.
  • and many more!

RSS & LIBRARIES & SCHOOLS

What can libraries & educators do with RSS? Libraries already use many services that have RSS feeds built right in. These services help us provide our students and patrons with lots of information.

  • Blogs – Lots of libraries & teachers have blogs (with RSS built in!). Teachers, students and parents can subscribe to the news with their own feed readers or via email. Many web page building tools have a way for you to add a list of headlines from another blog. Your classroom blog could include links to your principal’s blog on the sidebar. If you’re using WordPress for you workshop, look for the Appearances –> Widgets menu to test this out for yourself.
  • Events – Many events calendars also have RSS feeds built in. eg: New York Public Library events feeds
  • Databases – Many of our big magazine/journal/newspaper research tools have RSS feeds for subject searches and more.
  • Library Catalogs – Many library catalogs have RSS for subject searches, recent aquisitions and so on. For example, the Finger Lakes Library System provide RSS feeds for New Books, Videos and more.
  • Share Links – Do you collect great resources in Diigo? Those tags you’re adding to organize things all have RSS feeds. Take a look at the Tips, Tools & Resources section on the right sidebar of our Cool Tools homepage. That is an RSS feed that pulls over links listed in this Diigo Cool Tools for Schools group.

TOOLS TO EXPLORE

There are a number of tools that you can use to subscribe to RSS feeds. Some are free and some have limited free services with additional paid options.

  • Web-based feed aggregators: Feedly, The Old Reader, InoReader, NewsBlur
  • Personal Start Pages: Protopage, Start.me Startpage, SymbalooEdu Anyone remember the iGoogle service? It let you set up a home page for your browser with all your favorite news, blogs, weather apps, etc. Start.me is similar. And Symbaloo is great for setting up pages of RSS feeds, links to resources, etc. and they can then be shared with others.   Dealing with dashboard decisions, by Joyce Valenza, explores other start page options in light of the demise of iGoogle)
  • Email – Feeds can be delivered to your email inbox with email software such as Microsoft Outlook, Thunderbird, or through services like Feed My Inbox or BlogTrottr.

HOW TO FIND A FEED

If you see one of the little orange icons or a link that says subscribe, rss, feed and something similar, then you’re visiting a site that has an RSS Feed and you can subscribe to it.

  • Click on the symbol or link and you should be taken to a new web page that shows the latest headlines from the blog or news page you’re trying to subscribe too.
  • Copy the URL for that page. This is the URL for that site’s RSS feed.
  • Paste that URL into the “add feed” option in your feed reader.

LEARNING ACTIVITIES

Two Learning Activity options for this lesson – BASIC and ADVANCED – you choose!

BASIC LEARNING ACTIVITY

If RSS is all very new to you, set up a personal start page or an account with a feed reader.

Step 1: Pick a tool to explore and set up an account.

Try one of the tools listed in the Tools To Explore section above. If you have a tablet or smartphone, Feedly has a nice app for most platforms. If there’s another RSS or startpage app you’d like to try, go ahead! NOTE: Don’t forget to write down your account info. Login, password, etc.

Step 2: Add some RSS feeds to the tool you chose. Some ideas to try:

Step 3: Write your blog post! Some ideas to think about:

  • What do you like about RSS and feed readers?
  • What features did you explore?
  • How do you think you might be able to use this technology in your work or personal life?
  • How can libraries use RSS or take advantage of this new technology?
  • Did you find any great sources we should all add to our feed readers?

ADVANCED LEARNING ACTIVITY

If you already have an RSS feed reader account or a personal start page that you’re happy with, here are some alternative activities and ideas for you to explore.

  • Mobile option: Have an iOS or Android device? Try adding the Flipboard app or Feedly app to your device and adding some RSS feeds. Flipboard has a great “magazine” feature. When you find an article you want to share, you “flip” it into your magazine. Other people can then read your magazine.
  • Explore a different personal start page tool like Protopage or SymbalooEdu.
  • Set up a public page of RSS feeds (Symbaloo, Protopage) to help students with a research project. Or set up one for the other faculty in your school or department. Pull in great resources to share with them.
  • Do you bookmark great resources in Diigo? Use the RSS feed for one of your tags and add them to an RSS widget on your blog sidebar. Or add some to your library web site. To find the RSS feed for a tag, click on a tag in your Diigo account. You’ll find the RSS symbol at the bottom of the web page. Right click to copy the URL.
  • Add an RSS widget to your Cool Tools blog site. Add the RSS feed for this site, or another favorite blog.
  • Other ideas? Have some other RSS related project that you want to explore? Go for it! And share your ideas with us!

*TURNING IN YOUR ASSIGNMENT

  • Write & publish your blog post.
  • Copy the URL for the post.
  • Return to the lesson page on the CanvasLMS site.
  • Use the SUBMIT ASSIGNMENT button in the CanvasLMS page and paste in your URL.

*Only for students participating in the workshop for PD credit hours through the Canavas LMS system.

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