Friday, December 5, 2008

5. Learn about RSS feeds and set up your own Google Reader account

You’ve heard of RSS. You’ve seen those small orange icons on web sites. You’ve heard co-workers and acquaintances swear by it, but still have no idea what RSS is. Well, you’re not alone. In the information world, RSS is not only revolutionizing the way news and content creators share information, but it is swiftly changing the way everyday users are consuming information.

RSS stands for “Really Simple Syndication” and is a format (XML) for sharing headlines and other Web content. It allows users to browse headlines with a reader or aggregator, without having to visit every web site looking for new content. The RSS reader or aggregator checks RSS enabled Web pages, to which you have subscribed, and then displays any new or updated content that it finds in your reader.

Readers come in four basic forms: 1) built into a Web browser (Mozilla Firefox and Internet Explorer) 2) built into an email program (Microsoft Outlook and Thunderbird) 3) as a standalone program that you download (SharpReader or RSSOwl). Reader type number 4 is my preferred kind of reader: a web-based RSS reader, such as My Yahoo or Bloglines and Google Reader that require no software installation and make the user’s RSS feeds available on any computer with Web access.

Bloglines logo

My Yahoo logo

Just think about the web sites and news information sources you visit every day. It takes time to visit those sites and scour the ad-filled and image-heavy pages for just the text you want to read, doesn’t it? Now imagine if you could visit all those information sources and web pages in just one place and all at the same time - without being bombarded with advertising -without having to search for new information on the page you’d already seen or read before - and without having to use a lot of time visiting each site individually. Would that be valuable to you? Well, it’s available now through RSS.

The exercises this week focus on learning about RSS feeds and setting up a Google Reader account for yourself. There are also some optional exercises that explore adding an RSS feed to a web page.

Since you setup an account with Blogger for this class, you now have an account with Google by default because Google owns Blogger. All you have to do is go to Google's home page, log in with your Blogger username and password, and then choose Reader from your account tool bar.


  • Start by viewing the video called RSS in Plain English
  • Use the Resources above to learn more about RSS and newsreaders
  • Create a free online Google Reader account for yourself and subscribe to at least 3 newsfeeds. See a list below of some health science feeds.
  • See Google Reader Help for step-by-step instructions on how to subscribe to a feed.
  • Take a tour of Google Reader
  • Create a post in your blog about this exercise

Try some of these health science related feeds:

MedWorm: Medicine RSS
Ebling Library, University of Wisconsin
MedlinePlus - What's New!
David Rothman’s Blog
National Library of Medicine RSS Feeds

Optional Exercises:

    Click here for an example of combining several feeds from several publishers in one display and then placed on a web page using an online tool at

    Click here for an example of one feed from my Delicious account (feed buttons are at the bottom of every page in Delicious), formatted using and placed on a web page. The final result creates a mashup of two Web 2.0 tools: Social Bookmarking and RSS.

Don’t know what to blog about? Consider these questions:

  • What do you like about RSS and newsreaders?

  • How do you think you might be able to use this technology in your work or personal life?
  • How can libraries use RSS or take advantage of this new technology?

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