In a perfect world, updates from all your favorite news websites and blogs would appear instantly in one place, ready for you to access. You wouldn’t have to hunt. It would be like getting your meals delivered from the best restaurants in town, everyday.
I’ve often wished for just such a service. And then I found it…right under my nose. It’s called an RSS reader, and you’ve probably seen everywhere the little orange squares that signal its feeds.
We’d like to take away some of the mystery from RSS (which stands for Really Simple Syndication) and get you to try it out! You’ll wonder how you lived without it.
Here’s a brief summary of how it works: most news sites and blogs generate constantly updated “feeds” of all their latest content. An RSS reader tracks your favorite feeds and delivers them to you in one location. Think of it as an email inbox filled with your very own, personalized Web content. Just imagine… no more checking the same websites day in and day out to see if anything new has popped up. And you’ll never miss a thing.
For example, in my RSS reader, I am tracking the New York Times‘s “Most Emailed Stories,” my best friend’s blog, the comments my students post on our course website, and (of course) the TeachOIT blog. As soon as a student posts a comment or another story moves into the NY Times‘s most emailed list, it appears in my reader — complete with a description (and sometimes the full text), a link, and an option to share by email.
Although there are many RSS readers available, I use Google Reader because it is straightforward and requires no download. All you need to do is create a free Google account (which also gives you access to Google’s email, photo, calendar, and other services).
Once you have set up your reader, you can start adding “subscriptions” to your favorite websites by clicking on the site’s RSS link (which usually appears like this: ) or you can add the site’s URL directly in your reader.
And don’t forget: if you have your own UMass Blog, you can create a visible link to your blog’s feed to help your students and colleagues subscribe to your posts. Under the Design tab, click Widgets and then add Meta if you have not already. When you visit your blog, you should now see a link for “Entries RSS” and “Comments RSS” on the side menu. Visitors can now subscribe to your blog in the manner outlined above.
That’s it! Turns out, RSS really is Really Simple.