My 4/19/09 Missoulian column
You’ve probably noticed a little orange icon on many of the Web sites you have browsed with what look like white radio waves fanning out from a bottom corner. Or perhaps you’ve seen links called “news feeds” on many of those same Web sites, or the letters “RSS” in the address or tool bar of your Web browser.
Those are all for RSS feeds, or just “feeds” in the techno-shorthand of the Internet age. RSS feeds give news headlines and excerpts, and knowing and learning how to use them can make your Web browsing much more efficient.
RSS stands for really simple syndication, and RSS is, in fact, a simple way for Web sites to provide news headlines for anyone who wants them. Syndication is a word you’ve probably heard before – a syndicated columnist is one whose work is widely available in many newspapers. Now, the term applies to the way news is made available around the Internet.
Start up an RSS reader and it goes out and grabs the feeds from the Web sites you’re subscribed to and retrieves the headlines. For instance, instead of going to a newspaper site and browsing through all the pages, you can use an RSS feed to retrieve the headlines and quickly scan them, one after another, looking for subjects you’re interested in.
But RSS works with just about any other Web site, so any kind of announcement, update or information that is posted can be applied to the RSS feed. You can subscribe to updates of new items from Amazon.com, the latest weather report or Montana Grizzly sports updates – it’s almost endless. Because RSS is so widespread, chances are good most Web sites you use provide RSS feeds.
What happens if you are interested in the headline, announcement or update? You click. An important feature of a RSS feed is that you can click on the link in your news reader and go to the article, item or announcement on the feed’s Web site.
If you want to try out an RSS news feed, click on the RSS icon or link for a news feed on a Web page. If you don’t have a dedicated news reader installed (which I’ll cover next week), an RSS feed will open up in Internet Explorer 7, Firefox or Safari. (Internet Explorer 6 will only show the raw code of a feed). You’ll see a list of headlines offered in the feed and be able to click to the articles behind the headlines, and bookmark the feed, too.
Next week: RSS news reader tips and tricks