RSS—short for Real Simple Syndication—has been a buzzword for years, but if you conduct an informal survey of any community of executives, you will likely find that many still don’t fully understand how the tool can benefit them.
Whether you view digital channels as a necessary evil or a godsend, RSS is definitely a basic application whose complex capabilities betray the ease with which it can be implemented into any communicator’s toolbox (which might explain the hesitancy of slow adopters). It’s ideal for every professional, as it serves numerous purposes: It lets you browse your favorite Web sites without having to actually go from one to the other, thus decreasing the amount of time you usually waste surfing the Internet over your morning cup of coffee.
RSS can also be used to monitor all online conversations and news stories that mention you, your organization or your client. Sound a little Big Brother? Welcome to the 21st century.
Simply put, RSS enables the delivery of automatically updated information directly to your desktop based specifically on what you want to read, whether that content comes from a blog, Web site, social network or digital news outlet.
The application itself has two prongs: a feed and a reader. Users can subscribe to any number of RSS feeds, which are essentially Web pages that are designed to be read by computers rather than people. The coding embedded in the pages is what an RSS reader “sees” when it goes looking for the information updates that you subscribed to receive.
Consider the New York Times’ online edition as an example. An orange icon at the bottom of the page represents the site’s RSS. If you click on it, you will be directed to a list of the various feeds you can subscribe to, including Business, Health, Fashion & Style, etc. Subscribing to a feed notifies the site that every time new content is added to that section, you want to receive an update.
Enter RSS readers: An RSS reader is a piece of software aggregates all the Web content gathered by a user’s feeds and publishes it in a central location (i.e., your desktop or a single Web page). This is what allows you to customize the sources that are monitored to deliver your specific wish list of updated information.
Does all of this still sound too technical? Follow this step-by-step process, and you will have an RSS of your own.
1. Search for the best RSS reader for you. Just Google “free RSS news feed reader,” and you will have more than enough options to choose from. Popular free RSS readers include Google Reader, Bloglines, Rojo, NewsGator and FeedShow. Some are accessed via a Web browser, while others are actually downloadable applications that reside on your desktop. Plenty of sites review various reader options, so do a little bit of research to find the one that’s right for you.
2. Subscribe to an RSS reader. Once you’ve identified your reader of choice, click “subscribe.” Yep, that’s it.
3. Begin identifying the feeds you want to monitor. If you subscribe to Google Reader, for example, you will be taken to a site where you can “discover and search for feeds.” You can start small by just subscribing to one of Google’s prepackaged bundles, be it sports, news or fun, or you can search for more customized feeds by typing keywords into the “search and browse” field. Once you’ve found a feed that interests you, click “subscribe.” It will automatically be added to your reader.
4. Sit back, relax and enjoy the show. If you’ve subscribed to a Web browser-based reader, a la Google Reader, just visit the site and it will remember your chosen feeds. Updates to those sites will be summarized there; if you click on a specific headline, you will be taken directly to the full story. It’s as easy as that.