Thursday, February 26, 2009

Start using RSS in 5 minutes

RSS rocks. In addition to consolidating all the news you read on a single page, it's also handy for keeping up with the latest publications in your favorite journals without ever going to PubMed. If you're not using RSS, give it a shot and you'll never look back.

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. You might also hear it called "syndication", "news aggregation", "news feeds", or simply a "feed." Nowadays, nearly every blog, news, or other website that continually updates content uses RSS and allows users to subscribe to those feeds, and that includes most scientific journals. CNN, Nature Genetics, PNAS, Getting Genetics Done, ESPN, and even Barack Obama's blog all broadcast RSS. An RSS reader will aggregate updates or headlines from your favorite websites as they are posted into a single page, and usually lets you read the first paragraph or so of the article. You can then click to link out to the full article and continue reading if you're interested. It's a great way to aggregate all the news or blog content you read on a daily basis into a single web page for quick viewing.

To start using RSS, you'll need a reader. A great one to start with is google reader. They have a one-minute long video to show you the basic features. It's web-based so you don't have to install anything. All you need is a Gmail account, which most people already have nowadays.

Now let's subscribe to a few posts. Go to the NY Times' Science page. If you're using firefox, you should see the shiny orange RSS symbol in the address bar. Internet Explorer and Chrome have similar functionality built-in. Click it, then click add to Google Reader. Let's add a subscription to Nature Genetics. Click on their "Web Feeds" link near the right hand side of the front page. If websites don't have a page dedicated to the feeds they offer, many times your browser will realize that the content is syndicated with RSS, and you can subscribe using your browser. Now go back and check out your google reader page. It's easier to skim through headlines if you click the "Show: List" view rather than the expanded view. Click "Mark all as read" when you're done scanning through headlines. Any new stories published on either of these websites will show up here as a new item.

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Getting Genetics Done by Stephen Turner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.