Wednesday, 24 June 2009

A Really simple way to keep up to date

RSS – a Really Simple way to keep up to date

This time I would like to introduce you to something that I took a long time to decide to use and now wonder how I ever managed without it.

I am sure you have all seen this orange symbol on blogs and lists you visit on a regular basis and thought as I often did. ‘What is that for?’ or ‘What does it do?’ Well this article is my attempt to clear up this issue for you.

RSS means Real or Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary - its main benefit to users, is that it provides notification of a change to a particular website, news group or blog. This is done via a behind-the-scenes code, which we do not really need to know about, called XML. This information is then stored in a place where you can access it easily. You read your RSS feeds by means of a feed reader or aggregator. So instead of your email inbox being filled with notifications of changes, you decide when you want to check to see if a change has been made.

The first step is to set up a feed reader; if you use Internet Explorer (IE), there is one already set up for you . If you click on the ‘favorites’ star you will see two boxes underneath - one is favorites and the other is RSS feeds. If you use Mozilla Firefox then your RSS feed reader is in Bookmarks and you simply have to add the feeds.
This is how you add the feeds; if you see either the symbol or this symbol on a site you regularly visit, or the in your browser bar, you can start setting up your feed reader list today. There are also other ways to subscribe to feeds - see the commoncraft video link at the end of this article.
If you click on either or you are taken to the subscribe screen, you click on the ‘subscribe to this feed button’ and a pop up box comes up and you have to click on subscribe. This then clears the pop up and you get a screen where you can go directly to view your feeds.
There are also many online readers, for example Bloglines or you could install an RSS reader like Sharp reader on to your computer. Other possibilities include Juice: and Great News: . But for most people the IE feed reader is adequate. You simply access it from IE and no other program is necessary.

When you want to review your feeds in IE, you click on the favourites star and then on feeds and the feeds appear. You can tell if new information has been added as these feeds appear in bold and you can click on the headline to read the article, thus allowing you to keep up with a lot of different sites on a daily basis in a time saving manner. The other possibilities mentioned have similar ways to access information, you will be able to learn these on their sites.

How can I use this with my students?
If they are using blogs as writing practice, you can check who has added to their blog from your feed reader, without having to type in all the blog addresses. Also if they are researching a project, they can use the feed reader to collect lists of sites, with relevance to the topic they are studying and so they can see if any changes have been made to the site. For example most news websites and newsgroups use RSS.
Or they could use it to see if a fellow student’s blog has been amended, so that they can go to it and comment.

If you work in the English for Special Purposes field, RSS feeds can help you stay up to date with your students’ subject matter, or pick up material relating to new developments. You simply have to search for the topics once, then subscribe to them and watch out for updates on the important websites on your RSS feed reader. This should make your life a lot easier. You can easily set up exercises knowing that the material you are using is right up to date.

What I like about RSS feeds.
• The way my inbox stays just a little bit clearer than it used to do.
• Being able to keep up to date with topics more easily.
• Knowing when a blog has been updated.

What I don’t like about RSS feeds.
• There are still too many sites which do not have the RSS facility.
• The way many people still think RSS is too complicated to use and so don’t use it.
• With the IE feed reader if you have a problem with your computer the information might be lost if windows has to be reinstalled after a computer crash.

Here is my favourite video explanation of RSS feeds

I hope you have enjoyed your introduction to RSS feeds. Happy Subscribing.

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