Distill the Web with RSS
If you use the Internet on a daily basis then, you probably suffer from the challenge of information overload. There is so much to keep on top of – industry news, current events, politics, new technology trends, blogs, etc – that visiting all the sites necessary requires a great deal of time. However, there is a solution to help you manage this deluge of information and it is called RSS.
RSS or “Really Simple Syndication” is one of the most useful technologies of the last few years. You’ve likely seen the icon for RSS on various websites; it looks like one of the versions to the right. RSS allows your computer to automatically check any compatible website for updates and, if new information is on the site, RSS will deliver it to you without you having to visit the site. (Check out this Wikipedia article
for a detailed summary of the nuts and bolts.)
All you need to know to use RSS is that it’s composed of two parts:
1) websites that publish a special file in RSS format called a “feed”; and
2) A “RSS reader” sometimes called an “aggregator” or “feed reader” (look for a list of feed readers at the end of this article).
Feed readers can be either programs that you install on your computer or they can be websites that store your feeds online so you can get at them anywhere. A feed contains a list of news and other articles a website has published. Look for the RSS icons on the site and click on it to show the feed in your browser. You can then copy and paste the address for that feed from your address bar into your RSS reader to “subscribe” to that feed. Your RSS reader will check that feed (the RSS file) every few minutes to see if it has changed. If new content (news, articles, blog posts, etc) has been published by the website to their feed then your RSS reader will download that content for you to view.
So how does this help you? Well, it gives you a very fast and efficient way to follow the headlines and new posts on many different websites without having to take the time to visit all of those sites individually. The time saved by skimming the headlines and summaries for what interests you is a huge time saver compared to wading through each site for the relevant info. It’s like having the headlines and summaries for tens, or even hundreds, of different newspapers delivered to your door. If a headline interests you, just click a link for the full story. If a headline isn’t interesting you simply ignore it.
So who uses RSS? The answer is LOTS of websites. The system started with blogs and news outlets (like BBC, CNN, etc) as a way to distribute their headlines to subscribers quickly and efficiently. It has since grown and been adopted as a way to deliver all sorts of news and information between websites and people, and also between websites and other websites (more on this later).
Additionally, RSS is an indispensable way to stay abreast of time sensitive topics. For example, “Trulia Voices
” is a forum that allows consumers to post questions to be answered by real estate agents, but following the steady stream of questions can be time consuming. In addition, your web browser would have to stay on Trulia all day long. Using RSS, you can subscribe to questions posted only in certain regions, and then your RSS reader will show the question to you as they are posted – almost instantly. You can quickly review the posted questions and if it’s something you can answer, click the link in the feed’s story to go right to the website. Remember, in the world of social networking, answering consumer questions in online forums is a great way to build a reputation as an expert in certain areas, generate referrals and cultivate leads. Two real estate-specific sites, Activerain
, also support RSS updates to track new posts on their message boards.
Another valuable use for RSS is to distribute your own content.. For example, if you have a way to create RSS feeds of your office news or listings (all blogs have this ability by default and some website providers are including it now) you can write an article one time and have it show up in multiple places. On most websites you can even embed a “widget” that will display information from an RSS feed. Try this free RSS widget from Widgetbox
. If you use Facebook, the popular social networking platform, you can also use a widget called Simply RSS
to display news from RSS feeds on your Facebook profile page. Again, you wrote this content only once but it can show up in a variety of places online.
RSS is a perfect example of the interconnected nature of the Internet. You can use it to easily follow a friend’s blog, track the latest headline news, or stay on top of new messages in your favorite online forums. RSS is only going to grow in popularity, so if you don’t already use it, start now.
Article written by:
Director of Technology Services
Massachusetts Association of REALTORS®