Do you need to stay on top of the latest news and information but don't want to continually visit Web sites or sort through announcements in you e-mail in-boxes? Of course there is a better, more efficient way, and it's known as an RSS feed. Depending on whom you talk to, "RSS" stands for "Rich Site Summary," or "Really Simple Syndication."
These days, most major news and information outlets provide updates via RSS feeds. To tap into them, you'll need an RSS reader software that collects the latest data from your designated sources. To determine if an outlet offers an RSS feed, just look for the orange RSS icon.
When using an RSS reader, you can peruse daily headlines and click on those that you want to read. Instead of looking for information, the information effectively comes to you. Many outlets offer options for receiving general feeds that cover a broad area, or only those that fall within specific topics such as technology or small business.
While many people rely on RSS readers to obtain specific news, say on sports, politics, hobbies or blogs, RSS can also help you stay on top of developments in your industry and stay current with the latest hardware and software information and driver and patch updates.
Control and Choices
With an RSS reader, you designate the types of articles and information that you want to receive. And if you're unhappy with a particular feed, you can quickly remove it. (Try doing that with unwanted e-mail).
Configuring most RSS readers is easy. Once you find the RSS icon on a provider's site, you can click or right-click on it, and, depending on your reader, paste-in a special code or direct the reader to it. Many RSS programs can organize feeds into folders as well as sort by keywords and dates, much as one can do with e-mail in Outlook.
Or, your company can use RSS to make content available to others in your industry or to your customer base. With an RSS feed, you won't have to hope that readers visit your site and discover your announcements. And overall, RSS is probably more efficient than an e-mail newsletter.
RSS readers come in three basic types: desktop applications, Web-based readers/aggregators and plug-ins.
On the Desk
A desktop reader is a software application that you download, install on your computer and run. It works much like an e-mail client that runs in the background and looks for incoming e-mail.
Among desktop readers, the Windows-based FeedDemon is quite popular. The program lets you customize the manner in which feeds are organized and displayed, and it suggests feeds based on keywords. The program also offers integration with YouTube, Digg and Windows LiveWriter. You can download a 30-day free trial version to check it out. The full version costs $29.95.
Another powerful desktop application is News Crawler, which serves news in intuitive ticker and balloon formats, searches by keywords and organizes channels in a customizable tree structure. This application is available for $24.95.
And before you spend any money, there are free RSS readers. Omea Reader offers solid organization and search capabilities and lets you work with clippings and excerpts from larger documents that can be filed, searched and linked. Other well known free readers include RSS Bandit and Awasu Personal Edition.
On the Web
A Web-based RSS reader is a customizable Web page that compiles and displays feeds. The advantage of such a reader is that it supports mobile users who may work on different computers.
Among Web-based readers, My Yahoo is probably the best known. The service organizes information in order of importance and creates feeds based on keywords. Feeds may be viewed on cell phones and portable Internet devices. Since headlines appear on a customized My Yahoo page, you can also view the latest weather, sports scores, stock quotes and more alongside your RSS feeds.
Another free online reader from a big player, Google Reader, works in most browsers. NewsGator Online is a free online reader that manages overlapping feeds in different locations so you can, for example, view different feeds at work and at home. Also, through its "NewsGator Media Center," NewsGator Online can display selected news, sports and entertainment feeds on a television.
Give a Plug-in
As the name implies, there are plug-ins that integrate with Web browsers and e-mail clients to provide them with RSS reading features. Plug-ins effectively allow you to receive feeds in applications that you are already using.
NewsGator Outlook Edition integrates with Microsoft Outlook so the e-mail client can receive and display RSS feeds. The application can also send feeds to mobile phones. NewsGator offers a 14-day free trial and costs $1.66/month or $19.95/year.
By the way, the latest browsers, Mozilla's Firefox and Microsoft Internet Explorer 7 (currently in beta), also come with RSS reading capabilities of their own. These are worth evaluating first to see if they meet your needs.
Getting a Read
Generally, you'll want to choose an RSS reader based on the type (desktop, online or plug-in) that serves you best. Be sure to consider ease of use, the number of feeds that a reader can monitor, organization capabilities and ability to search and filter. With an RSS reader on your side, you should be staying up-to-date with a minimum of hassles.
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Adapted from itmanagement.earthWeb.com.