RSS and RSS Feed Readers

external image 254907643_866418d7e3_o_d.pngIn the first part of this module, you will learn about RSS feeds and feed readers. When you have selected a feed reader, move on to the second part of this module in which you will learn how to add feeds to your feed reader.

What is RSS? It's an acronym for "really simple syndication." A lot of the websites you visit every day probably publish an RSS feed. A quick way to check is to look for a symbol that looks like the orange square to the left anywhere on site's page or even in the address or location bar (where you type a website address) in your browser.

An RSS icon like the one on the left may be either orange or blue, and the color doesn't make any difference. If a site publishes an RSS feed, what that means is that you can subscribe to it and receive regular updates in a variety of ways. For example, if you use Microsoft Outlook for your e-mail, you can subscribe to RSS feeds and have them delivered to your inbox. Apple's Mail app allows you subscribe to RSS through your e-mail software also. Another popular way to subscribe to an RSS feed is through using a feed reader. The purpose of this module is to learn how to set up and use a feed reader to subscribe to and read RSS feeds.

Why Use RSS?

The first question you probably have is why you want to learn about and use RSS feeds. Put simply, educators have a lot of demands on their time, and RSS saves time. RSS allows you to check on most of your favorite websites in one handy place. Here is a Common Craft video about RSS:

Getting Started

As Lee LeFever explained in the video, the first step is to find a feed reader. Many feed readers exist. It can be hard to choose which one to use. Use this handy chart below to compare various features of popular feed readers in order to determine which kind of feed reader you want to use. Note: This list of feed readers or feed aggregators is not exhaustive, but it is a good start.

Feed Reader
Google Reader

If you have G-Mail, you have Google Reader already. Click on the link in the upper left hand area of G-Mail that says "Reader."

Google Reader has the following features:
  • Recommendations are provided based on feeds you already read.
  • You can e-mail links to your friends within Google Reader even if they don't use G-Mail or Google Reader.
  • You can use it to read feeds on any mobile phone browser.
  • Folders for easy organization.
  • Starring your favorites feeds helps you find favorites posts again easily.
My Yahoo

My Yahoo is a personal homepage you can configure with content you want, such as your e-mail (if you use Yahoo Mail), weather, TV listings, and more. You can also put your RSS feed subscriptions on My Yahoo.

My Yahoo has the following features:
  • Homepage with all of the content that's important to you.
  • Drag and drop modules that let you customize the appearance of your page.
  • You can share content with your friends, even if they don't use Yahoo, and you can share pages with your friends who also use My Yahoo.

Like My Yahoo, iGoogle is a personal homepage you can configure with content you want, including your e-mail (if you use G-Mail), weather, TV listings, horoscopes, games, and more. Like My Yahoo, you can also use it to keep up with your RSS feed subscriptions.

iGoogle has the following features:
  • Homepage with all of the content that's important to you.
  • Drag and drop modules that let you customize the appearance of your page.
  • Social gadgets that allow you to share information with and play games with friends.
  • Friends groups.
  • Updates on friends' activities.
  • Chat.

Like My Yahoo and iGoogle, Netvibes can be used as a personal homepage with content you want, like weather, a calendar, notes, and more.

Netvibes has the following features:
  • Integration with social networks like Facebook and Twitter.
  • Integration with sites like eBay and Craigslist.
  • Netvibes works on mobile phones if you use the mobile phone URL.
  • Public pages allow you gather content and share. It's great for education. See a sample here: SMARTBoard Resources.
  • You can subscribe to others' public Netvibes pages through your own Netvibes page and receive their updates through your own Netvibes account.

Like My Yahoo, iGoogle, and Netvibes, Pageflakes is a personal homepage, and has many of the same features as other personal homepages.

Pageflakes has the following features:
  • Integration with your e-mail, whether G-Mail, Yahoo Mail, or even POP3.
  • Integration with social networks like Facebook and Twitter.
  • Pagecasts, similar to Public Netvibes pages, allow you to gather and share content or subscribe to others' Pagecasts.
Microsoft Office Outlook

Microsoft Outlook is a popular e-mail client. It comes bundled with Microsoft Office. Outlook is Windows-only software, but Office for Mac comes with a similar e-mail client called Entourage.

Outlook has the following features:
  • E-mail and calendar.
  • Integration with social networks like MySpace and LinkedIn (Office 2010).
Apple Mail

Mail is the built-in mail client in the OS X operating system for Macs. Mail is Mac-only software.

Mail has the following features:
  • E-mail.
  • Syncing with iCal (Apple's calendar application) and Address Book.
  • Microsoft Exchange support.

*Price is for Outlook 2010 only. Prices for the Microsoft Office suite vary depending on which version you purchase. Price is accurate as of June 2010. A light version of Outlook called Outlook Express used to come bundled with Windows computers. It has been replaced in Vista with Windows Mail and in Windows 7 with Windows Live Mail. Windows Mail and Windows Live Mail can be used to read feeds. Outlook Express needs a plugin in order to act as a feed reader—given all the free and easy to use readers out there, configuring Outlook Express as a feed reader is more trouble than it's worth.

†Price is for OS X Snow Leopard. OS X Leopard is required to upgrade to Snow Leopard. All Apple Mac computers come bundled with Mail.

More Information

If you'd like to see these feed readers in action through video tutorials or learn more about their features before you decide, check out some of these videos.

Google Reader

My Yahoo



RSS Feeds in Outlook 2007

RSS Feeds in Apple Mail

Selecting a Feed Reader

If you are still having trouble deciding which feed reader to try, remember you are not locked into a choice. If you use a feed reader for a while and find it doesn't work for you, you can try another one, and most feed readers provide instructions for importing your feeds from other readers. You basically need to decide whether you want a stand alone feed reader, a personal homepage, or a feed reader integrated into your e-mail client.

I personally use Google Reader, and I have been very happy with it. I currently use Netvibes and encourage the use of Pageflakes for the purpose of creating public pages with a collection of feeds related to the same topic. Such use has a variety of applications in education, particularly for research.

After you have selected and registered for your feed reader, it's time to start adding feeds. Move to the next page when you are ready to start adding feeds to your feed reader.

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