Thing 4: RSS, Personal Home Pages and Feed Readers (2013 Version)

(2014/15 workshop begins in November 2014. These older pages will remain, but look for updated versions and new topics as the workshop progresses.)

Our next topic is all about RSS, a acryptic sounding acronym and frankly RSS Used To Scare Me!

When you started this project, you each set up a blog to share your reflections during the program and many of you have already started connecting with other folks in the project by reading their blogs. But with over 200 people participating, it would be really hard to visit everyone’s blog every week to see what’s new.  There’s a better way! This lesson will cover how to keep up with blogs, news sites and other resources that interest you through the magic of RSS.


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 there isn’t any breaking news on your favorite web site, then you’re spending a lot of time for no return.

RSS feed readers and personal home pages can save you lots of time by doing the time consuming & tedious work of checking all your favorite blogs and news sites for you. When you visit your feed reader or personal home page, 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.

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.

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
  • Library databases – Check out your Gale, Ebsco & other databases you pay for. They have RSS feeds for subject searches that will send you updates whenever a new article is published on a topic you’re interested in. Great for students doing research and needing to keep up to date on the latest articles.
  • Bookmark sharing services like delicious and 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!

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. If you’re using the Firefox browser, you’ll see an orange icon in the URL box for any site that has an RSS feed. Internet Explorer will show an orange icon on the toolbar for sites with an RSS feed. Chrome has add-ons that make it easy to subscribe to RSS feeds.


What can libraries 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 have blogs (with RSS built in!) for their library news. Teachers, students and parents can subscribe to the library news with their own feed readers or via email.
  • 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 databases have RSS feeds for subject searches and more.
  • Library Catalogs – Increasingly, library catalogs have RSS for subject searches, recent aquisitions and so on. eg: do a subject search in the Hennepin County Library catalog and you’ll get an RSS feed that will alert you to new books on that subject.
  • Book Reviews – Take a look at this library’s RSS feed of recent book (and other material) reviews  Denver Public Library
  • Share Links – Do you collect great resources in Diigo or Delicious? 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 project site. That is an  RSS feed that pulls over links listed in this Diigo Cool Tools for Schools group.


There are a number of tools that you can use to subscribe to RSS feeds.

  • Web-based feed aggregators (Feedly)
  • Personal Start Pages (NetvibesProtopageSymbalooEdu (Dealing with dashboard decisions, by Joyce Valenza, explores other start page options in light of the demise of iGoogle)
  • Some browsers have a built in feature to subscribe to RSS feeds.
  • Feeds can be delivered to your email inbox with email software such as Microsoft Outlook, Thunderbird, or through services like Feed My Inbox.

This week’s basic exercise will focus on setting up an account with Netvibes or Feedly. You could also choose any other tool you’d like to explore (Protopage, SymbalooEdu are two alternatives.)

Netvibes is personal start page where you can add and organise links to your favorite web pages, RSS feeds and social networking sites. It also has all sorts of productivity tools like calendars, weather information, bookmarking tools, notepads and other “widgets”. If you make Netvibes your brower’s home page, then you have your own customized home page on the web!

Netvibes lets you set up multiple pages  (“dashboards” as they’re known in Netvibes lingo) with tabs for different topics, classes, grades or other breakdown. Netvibes allows one public dashboard page, while keeping your other dashboards private. This is really handy for setting up pathfinders for students doing research, current awareness services for faculty or information portals for library patrons. We’re using a public Netvibes dashboard to gather the RSS feeds of all of the Cool Tools for Schools blogs in one easy to view place.

When Google Reader was killed off by Google, Feedly became one of the more popular replacements.  It helps you organize tons of RSS content in a streamlined way, making it easy to scan lots of posts in a hurry. You’ll need a Google or gmail account to login and create an account with Feedly.

  • Getting Started with Feedly (video) – Ignore the first few seconds of the video that talk about getting an app for your browser, but the rest of the video gives a good quick overview of features.
  • MakeUseOf Unofficial Guide to Feedly – This in depth document covers everything you need to know about Feedly (and then some…) (it might be easier to read in it’s PDF format)


Your activity for this week is to set up a personal start page or an account with a feed reader. If you already have an account with one of these tools, test out a new one to compare them. Or test some of the advanced features of your favorite service. The most important thing is to explore and learn something new.

Don’t forget to log your blog post when you’re done! When you finish this lesson by fill out the log form. You’ll need the URL of your first blog post to complete the form.

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

 Netvibes | Feedly | or other tool of your choice

NOTE: Don’t forget to write down your account info. Login, password, etc.

Step 2: In Netvibes, add some other gadgets/widgets that interest you. Can you find any library related widgets?

Step 3: Add some RSS feeds. Some ideas to try:

  • Your favorite blogs, news sites.
  • Subscribe to the RSS feed for this blog! Use the subscribe links over there on the right.
  • You could also add the RSS feeds for some of the other participants’ blogs.
  • Do a search in one of the Gale or Ebsco databases and add the RSS feed for the search.

Step 4 : Write your blog post for the week.  Please include “Thing 3: RSS” in the title.

Some ideas to think about as you blog:

  • 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?


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. Pick one or more write up your thoughts on your blog.  Please include “Thing 3: RSS” in the title.

  • Mobile option: Have an iOS or Android device? Try adding the Flipboard app to your device and adding some RSS feeds. If you’ve organized RSS feeds in folders in your Google Reader, try adding one of those folders to Flipboard. Similarly, you can add saved Twitter searches and lists too.
  • Explore a different personal start page tool like Protopage or SymbalooEdu. There’s also an extensive list of iGoogle alternatives on Phil Bradley’s blog.
  • Set up a public page of RSS feeds (Netvibes, 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 or Delicious? 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.
  • 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!


Finding blogs

Blog Search Tools help you find blog posts and blogs on whatever topic you’re interested in. Blog directories and “best of” lists abound.

  • Google Blog Search -Search for individual blog posts on the topics you’re interested in. That might lead you to a blog that you want to follow on a regular basis. Note that the first 3 results on your search page are usually links to blogs on your topic, the rest of the results are to individual blog posts.
  • “Best Of” lists – do a search for best yourtopichere blogs on your favorite search engine. You’ll find lots of lists!
  • The Edublog Awards – Lists nominated blogs and winners in over 20 education categories for every year since 2004.
  • Salem Press Library Blog Awards – top library blogs for 2010 to 2012.

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