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RSS Feeds Explained

RSS icon

What is an RSS Feed?

A useful feature of the GA website is the RSS feed, but very few site users know what RSS feeds are, or how to go about reading them.

'RSS' stands for Really Simple Syndication (or sometimes Rich Site Summary) and offers a way for subscribers to keep track of website and blog updates without needing to visit the websites themselves. RSS feeds are totally free and there is no limit to how many you can subscribe to.

A feed typically contains a headline, a short summary of the article or blog and a link to view the full item on its website of origin.

sample feed

If you visit a number of websites on a regular basis, then subscribing to RSS feeds is a useful way of keeping on top of updates from a variety of sources. Whichever kind of feed reader you use (the example below is taken from FeedDemon), you can view feeds from all your favourite websites all in one place.

FeedDemon - showing new feeds from a variety of sources

Not all websites offer RSS feeds but they are an increasingly popular way for organisations and bloggers to keep people up to date with their activities.

The frequency of feeds varies depending on what kind of content a website deals with. A large news website such as the BBC sends out dozens of feeds a day, whereas a smaller site may only send a few a week, and if you subscribe to something very specific such as job adverts in your local area, then you might only get a few feeds a month.

Feed Readers

In order to read RSS feeds, you need a feed reader - these are free and come in a variety of formats. Follow the simple instructions below to get started. For more detailed guidance, view the help files created by the software publisher.

RSS logo

Browser based

If you use Internet Explorer (7 or 8), Firefox, Safari or Opera to browse the web, then you can use their integrated feed readers. If you see an RSS icon on a website - they usually appear in the address bar at the top of the browser or within the body of the page - then you are able to subscribe to RSS feeds from that site.

Click the icon and you will be given the option of subscribing to the feed. Once you've subscribed, a folder of feeds will appear in your favourites/bookmarks menu and toolbar. These will be updated automatically and you can browse through them at any time.

Outlook

Microsoft Outlook 2007 offers a built-in feed reader which appears along side all your email folders in the left hand column.

To add RSS feeds to Outlook, follow these simple steps:

outlook
  1. Click Tools > Account Settings > RSS Feeds > New...

  2. Paste the URL of the feed you wish to subscribe to, e.g.
    http://feeds.feedburner.com/org/kOoa

  3. Click Add > OK > Close

  4. This will now appear within the RSS Feeds folder in your Outlook folder list.

  5. The folder name will become bold whenever there are new items to read.

Google Reader

This is a free online feed reader which offers you the convenience of being able to check your feeds from any computer, or even from your mobile phone.

To use Google Reader you need a Google account - this is also free and offers several other tools including email (Gmail), documents, calendar and iGoogle. Adding subscriptions to Google Reader is easy - you simply click 'Add subscription' and either paste in the feed URL, or use the search box to find a feed you like.

You could set Google Reader as your homepage, so that every time you open your web browser or a new tab, you view the latest updates from your favourite websites.

Google Reader also integrates nicely with iGoogle, a customisable homepage which allows you to add 'gadgets' displaying a range of content such as links to your favourite websites, a calendar, weather forecasts, BBC News and sticky notes - there are literally hundreds of options available.

Sample iGoogle homepage - the Google Reader gadget appears in the top left corner Sample iGoogle homepage - the Google Reader gadget appears in the top left corner

Desktop Feed Readers

Another way of viewing RSS feeds is by using a desktop programme. Windows Vista features an RSS reader in the desktop sidebar, or if you use a Mac, you can add a feed reader to your dashboard.

Desktop RSS reader widget Desktop RSS reader widget

If you have an older Windows operating system, you can add a sidebar-style feed reader to your desktop using free software such as Google Desktop or Yahoo Widgets.

Another option is to use a free RSS reader programme such as FeedDemon. This works in a similar way to Outlook - it alerts you when new feeds appear and highlights unread items. You can organise your feeds according to source, date or title, and you can customise the appearance to show basic or detailed information in colours and fonts of your choosing.

Geographical Association RSS Feed

Now you know what RSS feeds are and how to go about reading them, you should be ready to subscribe to the GA's RSS feed! Every time we add something new to the homepage and main section front pages, an RSS feed is sent out automatically. By subscribing to our RSS feed you'll be the first to know about website updates such as when the latest issues of our journals go online, when new books are in stock plus of course the latest geographical news and resources.

Visit http://feeds.feedburner.com/org/kOoa and either subscribe to the feed using the options presented by your browser, or copy and paste the URL into your feed reader's settings.

After subscribing you'll get a lot of feeds all in one go, but after reading and clearing them from your reader, you should get a steady stream from then on.

If you get stuck, please feel free to get in touch.

Anne Greaves
GA Website Manager

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