Follow your favourite sites and journals with RSS

This post is for anyone that manually checks websites to see if there are any updates… there is a better way!

RSS stands for Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication and is a way to track whether there have been any changes to a website. You most commonly see it on blogs and news websites, here’s an example from The Guardian.

To take advantage of RSS you need a reader, if you’re using a web browser like Firefox or Chrome you can do this via live bookmarks, although I find this a little clunky. You can also use email clients like Thunderbird, although getting website updates like emails could be very distracting! My preferred solution is to use reader software, I used google reader until its termination in the Summer of 2013. Now I use Feedly, as a plugin for Firefox and as an app on Android, although there are other RSS readers available. As we’re living in the future, these all sync together (via a login) and so your ‘saved for later’ and read lists match, no matter what platform you view on.

How does your feed list look? Here’s a screen grab of mine using the Feedly plugin for Firefox:

Screen grab of Feedly plugin in Firefox

Screen grab of Feedly plugin in Firefox

As you can see, you get a list of article titles from your sources. In this case I’ve ‘read’ all of mine, so none are in bold. Beyond this, when you click on any article you get a summary with an option to preview (view original page in Feedly) or link to the article. The list is updated automatically each time new content is posted to one of your feeds – you just click refresh. You can even group these into different categories (mine are on the left of the grab) using the organise function. All round, much easier and quicker than manually visiting websites to check for new content!

So how do you go about adding content to your new reader? Using Feedly you can use the search or add content buttons. This has the advantage of throwing up suggestions you might not know about, but are related by keywords. Another option is to keep an eye out for the RSS logo displayed on websites, it’ll be a variation on this:

RSS logo, sourced from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RSS

RSS logo, sourced from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RSS

When you click on a link like this your browser should take you to a page asking which service you wish to follow the feed with. If you’re using Feedly, pick this and add it to your chosen group/collection. You may also come across something called Atom, this will work too. If none of these options work, the site may not have an RSS feed. There are other options: listed here on the Feedly help.

Some good examples of sites to follow are:

  • SAIS forecasts (RSS in bottom right, also check out the blogs), avalanche forecasts for Scotland
  • In Focus from The Atlantic (RSS above article, below heading), excellent photo essays from around the world
  • Met Office blog (RSS some way down RH side), low down on weather and figures for recent extreme events
  • All-geo (just type in the add content search in Feedly), an aggregator for earth science blogs.

You can also use RSS to keep up to date with journals. This could be individual journals, like:

Or you could use it to monitor searches. You can do this in Science Direct, the RSS is at the top of a list of search results. Click on the link, give your search a title and then click on the generated link. I’ve not managed this for Wiley, but have dropped them a line to ask them if it’s available.

You can also use an RSS to monitor only some parts of a website, provided the owner is using tags/labels efficiently! For example, if you wanted to follow Anita Graser’s posts on QGIS you would click on the tag/label (often at the bottom of individual posts, also on the left in this example) to take you through to the page collecting these together and then in the address bar add rss after the final / (could also use feed or feeds). Note – this doesn’t always work!

Obviously the most important site to grab an RSS for is this one! Link is top right, under the banner.

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