RSS news feeds

The internet is full of interesting, informative sites you can monitor. Use a browser or a standalone news reader application to keep up-to-date with your favourite sites.
 
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01.Feed your inner newshound

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Keep up-to-date the easy way with the help of RSS news feeds

The internet has millions of blogs, news and opinion sites, newspapers and magazine sites as well as special interest sites all competing for your attention. But keeping track of all this information, especially if you have interests in several different areas, can be truly overwhelming. In the early days of the web, it was just a matter of signing up for a newsletter subscription. But that system isn’t really workable any more with the sheer volume of information we now have to keep track of on a weekly and daily basis. Many sites now have an RSS button (usually orange) that provides links to new stories and updates. RSS stands for “Really Simple Syndication” and is a quick and convenient way for subscribers to get instant notification of updates to a site. CHOICE has its own RSS feeds so you can be kept up-to-date with the latest articles online. Using RSS feeds isn’t difficult, even if you haven’t used them before. We’ll explore here some of the better tools you can use to sign up, manage, and read feeds from your favourite sites.

Browsing the options

The simplest way to keep up-to-date with updates and subscriptions is via RSS feeds through your browser. Bookmarks for sites you want to follow will update automatically once you’ve clicked the RSS button on a website and saved it to your bookmarks menu. See Web browser options below for a description of how different browsers handle updates via RSS. The other option is specialist RSS news readers. As separate applications, these often have more features or flexibility in how you manage your subscriptions. They work like browsers, allowing you to add and organise your feeds.There are many standalone RSS readers out there – see below for a brief summary of three of the best – for more options search Google for “RSS readers”.

 

Web browser options

See also our review of web browsers.

Mozilla Firefox

Firefox has a news reader application in the form of the Live Bookmark tool. When you come to a page showing the orange RSS button, click on it and it will open the subscriptions page for Mozilla Live Bookmarks. Clicking Subscribe Now will add it to either the Bookmarks Toolbar or the Bookmarks Menu.The Bookmarks Menu option will save the link to the drop-down bookmarks list while the Bookmarks Toolbar option will show the links across the Firefox toolbar. The only thing to note is that with the latter you need to click on the folder along the toolbar to show the drop-down list of updated stories.

Firefox + Sage

Firefox has a popular RSS reader add-on called Sage that adds a reader window to your browser to easily keep track of all your subscriptions. To install it, click on Tools > Add-ons and search for “Sage”. Then click the green leaf icon from the toolbar to open the reader panel on the left-hand side of the browser window.To add subscriptions, simply click the RSS icon on the site and choose Sage from the drop-down menu. Once added, you can then click on the Sage link to load all your feeds into the browser window for easy reading.While Firefox’s Live Bookmark tool is effective and does the job, if you subscribe to a lot of feeds Sage might be a better option.

Internet Explorer

Internet Explorer works in a similar way to Firefox. On a website with an RSS button, click on the icon to open the subscriptions page and then click Subscribe to this feed. It will now be added to the Feeds folder.You can access the Feeds folder by clicking on Favorites in the Favorites bar. It will appear as a tab with your favorites to the left of the currrent page. Organising all your feeds into folders will also make them easier to manage later on.Alternatively, click on Add to favourites or just click the star/arrow button on the toolbar for the link to be saved on the tool bar. Clicking on the link once will show a drop-down menu that lists new stories.

Opera

If you’re using the Opera browser, you can subscribe to feeds by clicking the RSS button and selecting one of the options, such as Opera Mail, which will display the feeds as emails in a split window: as a list in the top half with the current one expanded in the lower half. A drop-down list of current feeds appears in the main menu bar. Alternatively, you can add it to the Opera Portal page which displays your links on your own personalised portal.Another approach is to use a widget like RSS Checker. Go to Widgets > Add Widgets to find and install it. You’ll then have a floating box that will simply show the last headlines for stored websites while you browse.

Safari

Safari is similar to IE and Firefox. If a website supports RSS you’ll see an RSS icon in the upper right corner of the address bar. Click on the icon and Safari will load the RSS feed in a browser window, with a right-hand panel to help manage your feeds. This includes the ability to search, sort, update and filter all the articles listed. To alter Safari’s RSS settings go to the Safari menu > Preferences > RSS tab. There you can tell it how often to check for RSS updates, when to mark articles as read and when to remove older articles. You can even nominate another program to be the default RSS reader, such as your email program. 

RSS News Readers

Snarfer

Snarfer has a clean, simple interface that makes it easy to add and manage your subscriptions. The main viewing panel also has an option to email the news story to another person to share it, and dedicated search functions for eBay and Craigslist (an online classified ad service) that let you store the searches for these sites. It also has a handy keyword watch function that lets you set certain keywords and it will monitor and store feeds with the matching keywords. While Snarfer runs on your own computer, it also has links to Bloglines, an online RSS service, enabling remote access to your Snarfer feeds from, for example, an internet cafe. Snarfer can be downloaded from www.snarfware.com.

FeedDemon

FeedDemon comes with a pre-set list of feeds that you select from, or alternatively add to yourself. Adding feeds is just a matter of clicking the Subscribe icon and then entering the address of a website - if it supports feeds, it will be added to the list. Browsing feeds is as easy as clicking on the website name in the left-hand panel. There is a filter that can sort stories according to certain keywords and a synchronisation tool that lets you link FeedDemon with Google Reader. You can set different visual style for different feeds to allow for content like images, and you can even prefetch image content so you can read content offline. And if you're feeling overwhelmed by all the news stories, FeedDemon has a "panic button" in the Tools menu that will mark older stories as read! You can find FeedDemon at www.newsgator.com.

GoogleReader

Google has its own RSS tool called Google Reader that can be setup through a browser at www.reader.google.com. Like most Google tools, it requires a Google account (which is free). One advantage of Google Reader over other tools listed here is that your feeds are stored with your account, so you can access them from any internet-connected computer. It also uses Google Gears, which lets you can view content even while offline.Google Reader gives you the ability to share feeds with people from your contacts lists and follow feeds from other people. The Google Bundle option contains a package of feeds on a particular topic that has been preset, or you can create your own bundle and share it with others.

Did you know?

RSS arose at Netscape in 1999 and originally stood for Rich Site Summary. Dropped by Netscape in 2001, it was sustained by the RSS-DEV Working Group and one of its originators, Dave Winer, who in 2003 assigned the copyright to Harvard University. By 2005 RSS, now known as Really Simple Syndication, and substantially extended in capability, had been adopted by all the major browsers as a means to simply and easily follow updates to websites.

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