Wednesday, June 18, 2008


RSS is relatively little understood, but hugely important as a mode of online dissemination and syndication. In the simplest of terms, RSS is a web page written in XML that is commonly generated when content on a web site is changed. RSS aggregators are relatively small software packages that reside on the desktop, or in a browser, or at another web site that monitor updates at the RSS sites and make the new content available to the subscriber.

Though the technology dates back to the early versions of Netscape, this is only now gaining momentum as increasingly people are seeking a technological solution to keeping abreast of topics and areas of interest.

The link on the header of this post is to a simple description of RSS. A more detailed site describing the technology is:

RSS Feeds and Syndication of Feeds

RSS feeds are becoming very popular - so much so that there is a search engine dedicated to searching for feeds and for content within feeds.

News outlets are among the leading RSS feed generators, with separate feeds for columnists, topical areas, etc. Check out these lists of popular news RSS feed sites:

University of Wisconsin collection of Journal RSS feeds:

Springer alerts publishes RSS feeds of new publications by discipline:

What does an RSS site look like?

The xml of an unformatted RSS site does not look that exciting to most. But, the coding is translated into a nicely formatted update by any of a hundred or more different RSS aggregators.

RSS Feed Aggregators

There are literally hundreds of ways to subscribe to RSS feeds - free and proprietary aggregators as well as through the browsers themselves.

How to subscribe via IE 7:

How to subscribe via FireFox 3:

How to subscribe via GoogleReader (embeds in iGoogle)

Techtorial: Subscribing to RSS Feeds

In this online techtorial (tutorial) by Lorrie Jackson of Education World, the principles of subscribing to RSS fees are outlined. Examples are given with NewsGator and Firefox. Also, there are examples of how RSS might be used in (k/12) classes.

Syndication of RSS Feeds

Here are some examples of syndicated feeds - cases where the non-originating entity re-publishes the feed on the Web:


FeedBurner is a service that has recently been obtained by Google. It provides RSS feed distribution and a variety of services, including iTunes enclosures for podcast feeds. Data collection is available via FeedBurner providing, among other data, numbers of views of RSS feeds. Some one million publishers with nearly two million feeds are served by FeedBurner.

RSS Feed Generators

Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and many other Web 2.0 technologies auto-generate RSS feeds. Standard Web pages do not. You can easily create your own manual RSS feed, put it into a separate Web page (ending in .xml or .rss if you like); and add a simple line of code in the "head" section of your primary page.

Manual RSS generators are available as free (or paid) downloads and also online. The Web-based generator linked to the title does a great job by simply filling in the blanks. Save the resulting code into a Web page that you put online (normal convention would have the URL end in .rss or .xml though that is not required).

The line of code that you will want to add in the "head" section of your primary page is:

< link rel="alternate" type="application/rss+xml" title="put name of your page here" href="put URL of your newly created rss page here" > .

This will "light up" the orange RSS icon on browsers and will make it easy for all to find your feed.

Using this method you can manually update the RSS feed whenever you have new content on the primary page that you want to share with others.

Feed My Inbox

Feed My Inbox is an advertisement supported service that provides email delivery of RSS feeds. This service - and others like it - is very popular among those who find it difficult to check their RSS aggregator on a regular basis.
An email is sent each morning with the items added since the last email. The recipient can read the items and click through to the rest of the article or any links in the blog.
Other services provide SMS messaging of updates.

Semester without End

If we use RSS-enabled technologies in our classes and students are subscribe to them, the door is then open to continue to deliver updated course materials to students after they have completed the course and even after they have graduated. This then creates an extended community of learners - all of whom either are in the class, or have completed the class. The extended community can then post comments and add insights to the materials shared with the current students. This little concept can result in an important change in the nature of continuing education.

A paper on the topic is found in the Distance Teaching and Learning conference archives: