RSS means Really Simple Syndication, which strangely enough, doesn't sound very simple at all. Basically, it is a standardised protocol that enables people to monitor a 'feed' (i.e., a special URL address) and get alerts to new content.
For example, you can subscribe to the RSS of a blog (like the one you are reading), and then every time new content is added you receive the update in your rss software (without having to visit the site). In effect, new content comes to you as it is updated (from sources that you are interested in). If you are familiar with Podcasts - these are basically a form of RSS but with an MP3 attachment to each updated item. If you are more visually inclined you might want to jump to the video at the end of this post, else, keep reading.
So why might you want to use RSS? You can:
- Monitor a Journal's Table of Contents.
- Save searches from databases and have them fed into your RSS feeder. For example, perhaps you are writing a disseration on a topic - instead of constantly searching over the course of your thesis, you can just set up an RSS query and then you get alerted automatically! This saves you constantly going back to the database and searching for the same query over-and-over again.
- Monitor Twitter search terms that might be relevant to you (e.g., "conference theology Australia").
- Monitor important websites relevant to you (e.g., updates from the Archbishop of Canterbury).
- Save searches from news sites (e.g., "Anglican" on the Australian Broadcasting Commission).
There's basically only three things I'd recommend you need to get started.
- An RSS Reader. This is the software that you use to subscribe to RSS feeds. I personally use NetNewsWire (which is available on MAC, iPhone, iPad), but there's plenty of others for Windows or Linux as well (just check here). A lot of email programs even include RSS capabilities, although these are sometimes limited. (For an example of RSS workflow on the iPad, read another post here.)
- A Google Reader Account. This step is optional, but it is very handy if you want to synchronise the feeds you subscribe to (i.e., which articles have been 'read' or 'flagged') across multiple devices (which is very helpful). In actual fact, you can just use the online Google Reader interface if you don't want to install anything on your actual computer or mobile device.
- Some feeds to subscribe to! Check out the video at the top of this page.
- Adding feeds: Adding feeds will vary depending upon what software you are using. Generally, you will see an icon (like the orange one above) on websites that offer feeds (which you subscribe to by clicking on). For customised queries, the website will say something like "create a custom RSS feed" or after you conduct a search it might say something like "save this search as RSS for later".
- Organising feeds: Feeds in most readers can be grouped into folders.
- Reading and flagging articles: In the RSS reader you can read, print, email contents (e.g.,to your Evernote account), and even flag articles you wish to return to (just like email). When you have read an email, its status changes. If you are using multiple devices, it will now show as 'read' when you go to check for updates.
The example (at the top of the page) is on the mac (using NetNewWire and synchronising with Google Reader), but the workflow will be very similar across different platforms and software solutions.