objects/rssicon.jpgThere is so much information on the Internet that it can be overwhelming. There have been many different attempts to automatically deliver specific information to the computer user, but only one has become widely used -- RSS.

RSS, which stands for Really Simple Syndication,is a type of news aggregation that “feeds” headlines and links for new Web content to the computer user automatically. For this reason, the RSS link is called a feed.

By subscribing to the RSS feed on your favorite websites, you can have that website’s latest stories and links appear on your computer as they are posted. You no longer have to visit the website to see if there is anything new. 

Many, many websites now have RSS feeds. This includes news sites, technology sites, weather sites, and travel sites. Some sites have more than one RSS feed. For instance, the New York Times has an RSS feed for their main page as well as feeds for other sections like technology, sports, business, travel, and many more.

RSS feeds have been around for several years, but up until now they have been confusing to use. A few years ago, you needed a special news aggregator program to handle the RSS feeds. Now all of that has changed. Most of the new Web browsers including Internet Explorer 7, Firefox, and Opera include the ability to gather RSS information for you.

When you use one of these browsers, if a website you visit has an RSS feed, an orange square like this:objects/rssicon.jpg will appear on theright side of the browser address bar near the top of the screen. When you find an interesting website and you want to subscribe to their RSS feed, you simply click on the RSS button in your browser. Another window will appear giving you information about the RSS information from this website. Just click on “Subscribe” and you’re done.

Your browser will collect all the current new stories from the website you chose. It does this automatically in the background without your having to do a thing.

Each Web browser handles RSS feeds slightly differently. When you are ready to look at the list of new stories, how you access them will depend on which browser you are using.

It is very easy to access your RSS lists if you are using Internet Explorer 7. Just click on the star on the top left side of the screen. Then click on the Feeds tab. A list of the RSS feeds that you have subscribed to will appear. Choose the one you want to see and a list of stories will appear with the new updated headlines and links to the full stories.

The Firefox Web browser puts the RSS feeds in the Bookmarks Toolbar Folder. You can access them through the Bookmarks menu option. The Opera Web browser has a Feeds choice right in the main menu which you can use to look at your RSS information.

With the new browsers, you can see at a glance if a website has an RSS feed by checking for the orange square on the address bar. So some websites may have RSS feeds without even announcing them. Many websites, however, will announce the RSS feeds somewhere on their main page, or they will have a small orange rectangular button marked either XML or RSS like this: objects/rssicon.jpgsomewhere on the page.

Most people try to click on the orange XML or RSS button. Although some websites, like my Compu-KISS site, are now linking that button to some further instructions, if you are using an older browser like Internet Explorer 6, clicking on that button may just give you a page of computer code that looks like gobbledygook. These pages were created for you to copy the address of that page and paste it into your news aggregator program. 

As I mentioned earlier, you don’t have to use a news aggregator program anymore, but some of these programs offer additional organizational and functional features. If you get really involved in RSS feeds you may want to try one. My favorites are FeedDemon for Windows and NetNewsWire (www.newsgator.com) for the Mac. While these programs cost about $30, they both have free trials, and they have great features that are worth the price for heavy-duty RSS feed reading. If however, you just want to try out RSS feeds, stick with the Web browsers that support them.

RSS feeds are free and the Web browsers are also free, so you don’t have anything to lose. Using RSS feeds can be convenient and it can be fun as well. As the saying goes, “Try it, you’ll like it!”