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Cybernaut

RSS — must-have or gimmick?

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If you’ve been browsing the web recently you might have noticed a growing number of references to RSS feeds, and probably were a bit confused by the reference. Like widgets and tickers and other extras, you probably consigned RSS to the big pile of things that only applies to the true geeks of the Internet world – and you would probably be right.

According to Forrester Researcher, just two per cent of Internet users are actively using RSS feeds – which means that 98 per cent of us are not.

If you’re not in the know, RSS stands for RDF Site Summary or Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication, depending on who you talk to.

The technology harkens back to Netscape web browsers, and essentially refers to website content that can be easily shared between websites through automated publishing systems and syndication. Examples include news feeds, listings, and blog sites, all delivered as XML files.

Some companies using RSS include Reuters, CNN and the BBC.

Unless you’re in web publishing, you don’t really need to know how RSS works, but if you’re a big reader of online news or blog sites then try the following experiment.

Go to the BBC website at www.bbc.co.uk/ , and look for the day’s top stories. There will be a little orange block with RSS written on it. Click the box and you will be referred to a batch of headlines from the top stories filed within a preset time frame.

For another example, check out Arianna Hufftington’s blog site at www.huffingtonpost.com .

Some sites like Feedster ( www.feedster.com ) use little orange XML tags instead, but it’s pretty much the same thing from a layman’s perspective.

Basically RSS makes it possible to subscribe to a website instead of visiting it, providing you use the right browser or hub. You can even download RSS aggregators, which are kind of like conventional browsers but only pick up RSS information as content is posted.

Some of the most-used aggregators include eNewsBar ( www.enewsbar.com ), the NewsGator RSS Reader ( www.newsgator.com ), and the RSS Reader ( www.pluck.com ).

Microsoft Internet Explorer, the new Apple Safari, and various other browsers also have built-in RSS plug-in features – when you’re visiting a site, click on the RSS button that appears in the URL bar, or visit the preferences to find out how you can make RSS updates appear on your navigation bars.

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