What is RSS and How to Use it Effectively

[Really] What is RSS? You don’t really need to know what RSS is. What you do need to know is what it can do for you and then how to get on-board.

RSS can supercharge your surfing of the web, especially those sites (and blogs) that specialize in news, research (I will use the Legal Tech blog beSpacific as an example), announcements, alerts, calendar additions, etc.  I’ve found that the most [Simple] way of thinking about it is a kind to a form of remote bookmarks (via unique URLs), but on steroids.  Basically these remote bookmark files (RSS) are created by some news, alerts, research sites by the software that manages the content aka content manager of those web pages.  These bookmarks may be created in (near) real-time, of published on a schedule determined at the remote site.

Unfortunately, not all content sites publish [Syndicate] RSS feeds which means you would pretty much have to go (surf) to each site on your own, perhaps on a hour, daily, or weekly schedule looking for new content.  Some content sites do publish RSS feeds, but make it difficult for you to find (RSS URLs) where they are. [Editor’s note – you can also subscribe (fee and free) to one of various web page change monitoring and notification services that alert you to changes in sites you have specified for tracking.]

Some sites that do syndicate RSS content feeds also provide a subsetting service — basically content that has been tagged (typically using a folksonomy) with a meaningful string which then can be accessed individually without seeing all of the other unrelated articles e.g., a posting on beSpacific will demonstrate such:

algorithm-as-a-human-artifact-implications-for-legal-research/ was tagged by the author or content curator with the following four strings after the body-of-text:

Subjects: Knowledge Management, Legal Research, Libraries, Search Engines

Each of those topics has its own web page subset where other previous articles with that tag can be found (usually reverse chrono) e.g., Legal Research: http://www.bespacific.com/category/legal-research/feed

This tagging by the content by the blog author, Sabrina I. Pacifici is an invaluable added-value service since she provides her categorization (subject/topic tagging) experience to each posting for research retrieval at any time.  As she posts updates to her blog daily, the RSS feed for each category will be refreshed, expanded and enhanced. Essentially, it allows you to follow (subscribe to) the site’s specific (tagged) topics in which you may have a greater interest. It is worth a bit of time to locate the RSS feed on sites and blogs of interest to you so that you may then do ‘something’ with the content – such as track and monitor it for actionable information and knowledge sharing.

The ‘something’ is engaged when you have (access to) a news reading program or service which you have told (configured) to fetch (and aggregate) the RSS feeds.

It is not always clear when the ‘reader’ will do the fetching (this may occur synchronously to your launching the app/service or on some other basis, which is independent of when the content web site actually updates the RSS feeds themselves).

These news reading programs, are also known as aggregators, will have a user interface that allows you to organize the feeds much like how you organize email – folders that have one or more RSS feeds associated with them.  Many aggregators will only show you feeds whose articles you have not yet viewed (or scrolled) through, reducing the visual and mental overload, which can be time consuming.

Aggregators come in various flavors: installed apps, installed browser extensions, application extension (my mail reader app Thunderbird can do RSS processing) or web-based.  I prefer the latter since, depending upon the computing platform that I am using, the browser maintains my organization, viewing details (read, unread, save for later) regardless of what device I might be surfing (desktop, mobile phone, tablet).  Also, some aggregators’ apps or web services may be fee-based, free, or have freemium versions.  Some have the ability to filter for even more granularity or to process the content in some way.  Some require a unique user id/password or use a form of federation (Google user id/password) so that you don’t have to create new credentials (the aggregator might use a Google API to authenticate you).

DMOZ has indexed a collection of aggregators called FEED READERS.  I doubt that the listing (since I don’t see the one that I am currently using called FEEDLY) is up to date, but you may find something useful there: http://www.dmoz.org/Computers/Software/Internet/Clients/Web/Feed_Readers/

Now that we have a basic idea of why we might want to make use of RSS, it’s time to find some RSS files.

These techniques are not fool-proof and there is some domain knowledge that is acquired along the way.

If a site wants you to know about its RSS feeds, it will do so in one or more ways.  Again, using http://www.bespacific.com/ as an example, after clicking on that URL (in Firefox – for some Chrome users the browser may request you to install an app/extension), take a look at the right of the “reload current page” icon on the GOTO/URL input area.  You should see a series of partially concentric sectors edges.  Left click once on that might produce a list of RSS feeds for that site or tag or directly take you to RSS site itself. Clicking on one (if a list) will often give you the URL which you can then use to configure your aggregator.

We’ll go to this web page again: http://www.bespacific.com/category/legal-research/

Clicking on the icon, we see four RSS links. The bottom one is: http://www.bespacific.com/category/legal-research/feed/ which could be added to your aggregator if that particular Subject is of interest to you.

The beSpacific blog also has some body-of-text icons, one of which is orange and looks similar to the one to the right of the URL input area.  This may or may not produce the same results as clicking on the previously referenced icon.

Sometimes the RSS location is referenced by a web page link in the footer.  If may say RSS or FEED.  It may not be the RSS URL itself, but a link to a web page with one or more RSS URLs.

Google News produces RSS feeds for various topics.

Google News https://news.google.com/ allows us to see its RSS feed itself: https://news.google.com/news?cf=all&hl=en&pz=1&ned=us&topic=h&num=3&output=rss

Back to the main page, we see a current topic for DONALD TRUMP: https://news.google.com/news/section?cf=all&hl=en&pz=1&ned=us&q=Donald+Trump&topicsid=FRONTPAGE&ict=tnv0

Clicking on that, we can find the RSS feed: https://news.google.com/news?cf=all&hl=en&pz=1&ned=us&q=Donald+Trump&output=rss

There you have it RSS – Really Simply Syndication.

Posted in: Legal Marketing, Legal Profession, Legal Research, RSS Newsfeeds