RSS is often described as the “glue of Web 2.0“. It’s the code whereby one website or application knows when another website has been updated. All blogs have an RSS feed. This means that if you choose to subscribe to a feed you will automatically get notified that the blog has been updated. This is a fantastic tool to use because it means that you can very easily keep tabs on a large number of blogs without ever having to visit them – a real timesaver if you are tryng to monitor the activities on a school blogsite or read one of any number of influential edublogs.
All Creative Blogs feeds follow exactly the same format: http://creativeblogs.net/feed/ is the RSS feed for this blog. In other words, take your chosen blog’s URL and add /feed/ to the end of it. Other blog platforms won’t necessarily have the same format of URL for feeds, but you can usually spot them easily enough by looking for the link to the feed on the blog itself (often in the footer) or by looking for the orange RSS button. Most modern web browsers will automatically detect if a page has a feed on it.
However, if you follow the link above and look at the Creative Blogs RSS feed you’ll be looking at something that is pretty unpalatable to attempt to read. So, you need an interpreter.
There are a number of ways in which you can read and subscribe to feeds, and I’ll mention three here.
The first is to use your web browser. Most modern browsers have feed readers built into them. For example, if you have Firefox you will notice that the browser will automatically identify if a web page has a feed on it and shows the orange RSS button. Simply click on the orange button to subscribe to the feed and Firefox will keep tabs on that site for you.
The problem with this method of reading feeds is that it is tied to one computer i.e. only that browser has your list of feeds in it. So it’s better to use a web based feed reader. Also, older browsers such as Internet Explorer 6.0 won’t have this type of feature (you have updated by now, haven’t you?)
If you have a Google account you can use Google’s free Google Reader. Simply log in to Google and click on the Reader link at top left. Every time you enter a feed into the browser address bar or click on an orange RSS button Google will ask you whether you want to add the feed to Google Reader. Within Reader you can organise your feeds into folders and share interesting articles with friends. Because Google Reader is web based, you can log into it at any browser, or even on your mobile if you have a mobile web facility.
One of the easiest ways to introduce RSS is to use Pageflakes. Pageflakes is a web-based desktop that allows you to customise your own web homepage. On this page, you can include RSS feeds. Here is an example page I have set up for an ICT co-ordinators course. Each course member has their own blog in order to reflect on the course and they can all see what each other is writing by visiting this Pageflakes page.
Each box displayed is a separate blog’s feed.
To add a feed to a Pageflakes page, click on the big “Flake” button, then on the left there is a small link saying “Add an RSS feed”. Simply click on this link and paste your feed into the box.
Here’s the link to the aforementioned ICT co-ordinator’s course.
Why not have a go at creating a school homepage using Pageflakes? You’re not restricted to feeds from blogs, you could add the BBC education feed, local weather feeds, image galleries, games and all sorts.
Whichever way you choose, do make the effort to explore and understand RSS. It will literally transform the way you use the web.