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By Dr. Philip Baczewski, Director of Academic Computing and User Services
A new trend is gradually coming to light in the Web arena. For some time, there have been various "digest sites" on the Web such as Slashdot, News Forge, and other similar sites. These sites provide references to news and information gathered by editors or members from various Internet sources, sometimes with and sometimes without commentary. The results of these efforts read like specialized online newspapers, with headlines that catch your eye and draw you into the rest of the story.
Now such compilations are provided by a number of news and information Internet sites in the form of RSS feeds. RSS stands for "Really Simple Syndication" and is a method for providing headlines and synopses of Web-based information. All you need to access a site's RSS feed is an RSS reader. Like the specialized Usenet News readers of old, RSS readers are specialized programs which can understand and display information found on RSS feed sites.
Recently, Apple Computer helped raise the profile of RSS by including an RSS subscription feature in the new version of its Safari Web browser. Safari will display an icon in the URL field if a site is offering an RSS feed. By adding the feed site to your bookmarks you can recall if for later browsing or include it in a compilation of articles from numerous sites to which you've subscribed. Mozilla's Firefox has a similar feature which they have named live bookmarks
Safari provides a convenient interface for viewing RSS feeds. You can search amongst all your RSS subscriptions for a particular topic and even save a preset search as a bookmark. This lets you create custom news aggregates on your favorite topic. Firefox will display subscribed RSS feed articles as individual bookmarks you can reference.
RSS feeds can be a quick and efficient way to browse for news and information. Apple even has RSS feeds for its iTunes service if you want to know what's newly available for your iPod. As RSS becomes an integral part of Web sites and Web browsers, it may become our primary entrée to Internet information. I've already found one big advantage -- there are no advertisements, at least not when you're viewing the RSS items.
Look for RSS feeds on your favorite Web sites. Since RSS is an XML implementation, sometimes RSS 2.0 feeds will be marked with an orange XML icon. More commonly, you'll see a link that says something like "RSS Headlines." If your browser supports RSS, it's worth a try.