RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is a great way to keep up to date with news, events and other oft-changing information. While it’s not the latest technology, it remains an effective and easy-to-implement way of keeping people up to date with relevant information. This blog post reviews the technology and suggests ideas for using it in your library, archive, museum or other organization. We present two options which can be implemented together or separately. Your power users will appreciate being able to subscribe to the feeds themselves, while the rest will love the convenience of being able to see regular updates on your website without having to understand anything about RSS.
In this post:
What is RSS?
RSS is a technology used to publish frequently changing information, such as news headlines and stories. An RSS feed typically includes a headline or title, a publication date, and a link to follow for more details. Users subscribe to a feed using a variety of tools – a dedicated feed reader such as NewsGator, a web service such as iGoogle or Google Reader, or an email client, including Microsoft Outlook. As new items are published in the feed, they appear in the user's reader, allowing the user to stay current with the latest news and information from many sources.
The screenshot above shows a sample RSS feed in MS Outlook (click to enlarge).
On a website, if an RSS feed is available, it’s usually indicated with an icon like the one shown to the right. The icon is usually a link to the feed, so clicking it will open the feed either in your web browser, in a dedicated feed reader program if one is installed, or in your email client, such as Outlook.
For users, quickly scanning headlines from many sources then clicking to read more is an efficient way of staying current with topics in their field of interest, whether it’s the latest legal judgments from the Supreme Court, or simply the latest sports scores.
How can you use RSS?
Two ideas for using RSS are to publish your own content in a feed, or to make the content of others available to your users (or both).
Publish a feed of your own content
If you have an Inmagic database and WebPublisher PRO, or the Inmagic Genie integrated library system, you can use the Andornot RSS Control for WebPublisher Pro to create a feed that publishes records directly from your database. For example, you might create a feed of:
- the latest books in a library catalogue;
- the latest journals received;
- the latest additions to a legal memos database; or
- the latest additions to your archives.
The feed can be created from any search strategy so can be really precise or very general. Once your feed is available, you can list the URL to it on your web page, as hyperlinked text or using the RSS icon. Just like your databases, the feed can be made available only to people within your organization, or to the wider world.
Andornot recently worked with the Law Society of Saskatchewan Library to develop a page of RSS feeds. The page lists feeds for different legal practice areas. LSS members may click the practice area to view recent additions to the library catalogue specific to that area, or subscribe to an RSS feed to automatically stay up-to-date with future additions.
Republish other content
As you come across RSS feeds from other content providers, you can copy the URL to the feed and list it on a library web page for your users to subscribe to. You can also go one step further and publish that feed as text on your web page. This is a great way of keeping content fresh on a home page, for example. Once set up, the new entries will appear automatically
The screenshot to the right shows a sample page that publishes recent headlines from several health-related feeds. Users can read the latest headlines on the page, as well as subscribe directly to feeds they are interested in by clicking the RSS icon next to each feed’s title. The page is easily customized with feeds of interest to your users.
If your web site runs inside a Content Management System, including Microsoft SharePoint, it can be very easy to publish RSS feeds on a web page. It’s usually just a matter of adding an RSS feed web part or "widget" to the page, entering the URL to the feed, and sometimes specifying how many items to publish at a time (4-6 is a good number).
If you don’t have a content management system, you can still create a web page that publishes an RSS feed as text seamlessly embedded in your web page using the Andornot RSS Viewer. You can see this in action here:
- on the Andornot.com home page, under Andornot blog in the right column – these are RSS headlines representing the latest posts to our blog;
- on the ThreeSource.ca home page, under Latest Additions in the left column – these are RSS headlines, each of which takes a user directly into a record in the database.
A further example
We always try to practice what we preach, and our use of RSS feeds is no exception. The Andornot Blog is available as:
- a series of web pages;
- an RSS feed, available from (http://feeds.feedburner.com/andornotblog) and linked via the RSS icon on our home page; and
- an RSS feed republished as text on our home page, showing the most recent 8 blog entries, configured within our Umbraco Content Management System.
All of us at Andornot use RSS feeds ourselves to scan the latest news and articles from technical blogs. We may only end up reading 20% of the actual articles, but glancing at a page of headlines is a quick and easy way of keeping current and getting a sense of the latest topics and issues.
How can Andornot help?
Andornot can help you do more with RSS by:
- Working with you to establish what content might be suitable to create a feed
- Providing you with our RSS Control for WebPublisher PRO, so you can generate RSS feeds directly from your database.
- Helping you configure your web site to publish RSS feed content, a great way to automatically add current information to your site.
- Explaining other options such as the use of FeedBurner, or tools to merge and combine multiple feeds.
Contact us to discuss how we can help you use RSS technology to provide a current awareness service to keep your users up to date with information relevant to them. Or, if you would like to start by setting up some feeds for just your own use, we can help with this too.