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RSS Readers, Article Alerts, and New Ways to Keep Up: RSS Basics

This guide details several different methods for keeping up with new literature in your field, be it through article alerts, RSS feeds, or a combination of the two in new article discovery systems.

Featured RSS Readers

Each of these RSS readers provides different features. Experiment with them and narrow down to one you like — they all have advantages, disadvantages, and loyal followings. For a comprehensive list of RSS readers and the platforms they support, please visit this Wikipedia page comparing feed readers. If you want to get a feel for them without signing up, check YouTube for tutorials! 

Your desktop or laptop may also have RSS reading software.

PC users enjoy Nextgen Reader, NewsFlow, and Veen Feed Reader; some of these are paid apps, but they tend to offer trials.

Highly-rated Mac apps include News Explorer, Leaf, ReadKit, and News Headlines (all of which are paid apps ranging from $2.99-$9.99). I use News Explorer, and I like that it can automatically send articles to Instapaper (web/mobile), the article clipper I use. Instapaper sends a .mobi file to my phone's Kindle app every Friday.

Can what I have already do RSS?

The tools below are not RSS readers, but each of them supports some limited RSS functionality within the program. If you want to keep up with RSS without signing up for another service or downloading yet another piece of software, one of these integrated solutions might be your best solution.

Introduction to RSS Readers and Reading

Define RSS.

Ultimately, RSS stands for Rich or RDF Site Summary. In the context of RSS adoption, many people call it Really Simple Syndication. Once you know the basics of RSS, it is easy.

What is RSS?

RSS feeds are a way for websites to immediately distribute new content as it becomes available. Just a print newspaper receives syndicated comics, pari-mutuel horse races, or yesterday's sports scores so that you always view the most recent one, it makes sense to receive any category of useful information so that you see the most recent right away. Think of an RSS feed as a file with a unique URL address that contains data that describes or contains a blog or website's most recent entries.

RSS feeds benefit publishers and other information providers by letting them syndicate content automatically. A standardized XML file format allows the information to be published once and viewed by many different programs.

RSS benefits readers who want to subscribe to timely updates from favorite websites or to aggregate feeds from many sites into one place. The RSS reader checks the user's subscribed feeds regularly for new arrivals, downloads any updates that it finds, and provides a user interface to monitor and read the feeds. Rather than visiting many web sites to stay up to date, RSS allows users to instead subscribe so that all new content is automatically identified and viewable, in the case of a reader-aggregator, all in one place. RSS readers will also have their own tools for sharing items or feeds.

Why should I use a feed reader? Can I use RSS without one?

An RSS feed reader is essential to using RSS actively. Many feed readers are stand-alone web sites (think of your email) or integrated features within email programs (such as Outlook and Thunderbird). Without an RSS reader, the feed will look like an XML document (that is to say, not very human-readable). Plus: Feed readers make it easy to just see a list of what's happening on your favorite web sites without having to scroll past giant pictures or click the Next Page button. They save time, and they help you get to the content that matters.

RSS readers are also called feed readers and RSS aggregators. They can be web-based (such as Feedly or NewsBlur), desktop-based (such as iOS's NetNewsWire or the cross-platform RSS Owl), or mobile-compatible (again, such as Feedly or NewsBlur, but Flipboard is a major contender here). You can also use built-in RSS applications in your browser, such as Firefox, Internet Explorer, or Chrome. Desktop-based and web browser-based feed readers are limited to the computer on which you set them up.

By subscribing to a site's feed in an RSS Reader, you will automatically be notified when that website contains new posts or entries. Instead of checking sites repeatedly for updates, RSS feeds bring your favorite websites to you!

How do I find an RSS feed?

See the header "Finding Good Feeds."

In addition, an RSS feed can be identified with a universal symbol: . Most RSS symbols have an orange background, but the color may vary on the web site's design scheme. When you see the dot with the two arcs, clicking that (or right-clicking and selecting "Copy Link Address") will let you see the site's RSS feed.

From there, you can either copy and paste the link to subscribe to the feed in the reader of your choice, or in the case of many web browsers, such as Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, or Chrome, click a button to subscribe directly. However, a browser subscription is limited to the one computer with the browser.

Why have I never heard of RSS?

We don't know, but RSS will not go gentle into that good night.

Science Research Support Librarian

Kayleigh Bohemier's picture
Kayleigh Bohemier
During COVID-19, library services have moved to online-only.

Please email me or use the Schedule Appointment button. Appointments will happen using Zoom or other videoconferencing software. Zoom has a phone option for those who need to call in.


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