If you were a journalist before the internet became as pervasive as it now is, you’ll remember the bad old days when you relied on the newsroom fax machine to receive copies of the press releases, documents and reports you needed to help research and write your stories.
Now you are more likely to get the information you need at your desk straight from the web, saving you time and the frustration of dealing with paper-clogged fax machines. But one side-effect of the digital revolution is that we are swamped with email. And between news feeds you’ll want to monitor to stay abreast of developments in your round, blogs and the websites of companies and government departments, there’s a vast amount of electronic information to keep track of.
Thankfully it is now relatively easy to keep up with the flow of electronic information thanks to a web technology called Really Simple Syndication (RSS).
RSS at the Science Media Centre
You can quickly and easily sign up to receive our Science Alert: Experts Respond, News, Science Bites and Reflection on Science updates via RSS. Just click on the orange tab above each section of the website and add the RSS feed address into your RSS aggregator of choice. More on those below…
RSS lets you use a free piece of software to subscribe to all the feeds from news websites, blogs and companies and have the power to categorise and display them in a way that’s most convenient for you. In effect, the RSS aggregator as it is known, becomes your own personal wire service.
It means you don’t have to regularly check websites for updates or scan numerous news portals to make sure you’re not missing the boat on a developing story. You can also use RSS feeds to receive newsletters, press releases and website updates, reducing the email load on your inbox.
Despite the benefits of RSS aggregators, many journalists still don’t take advantage of them and some media organisations actually block access to RSS aggregators along with other websites they see as encouraging time-wasting. In fact, RSS is a great productivity booster as it allows you to get information faster and to wade through a mountain of new more quickly. There are numerous RSS aggregators available to use, most of which are free and web-based so you don’t need to download any software to your computer. Here are some of our favourites.
One of the leading RSS aggregators, Bloglines is a free and easy to use web-based RSS aggregator that lets you sign up to RSS feeds and electronic newsletters and view new articles as they come through.You can choose from a vast list of RSS sources within Bloglines or make your own searches and subscribe to the websites thrown up in the results. You can put articles in folders, which is ideal if you’re keeping track of several different topics and you can save articles to read later. There’s also a version customised for mobile phones.
Google Reader is a logical choice if you’re already using Google’s free Gmail webmail system. You can access the RSS aggregator Google Reader from within Gmail and once again all you’ll need her eis a web browser. Your RSS feeds are accessible from any computer once you have logged into Google Reader. It’s easy to add notes to feeds and share them with your friends and colleagues. A fairly stripped down but easy to use aggregator.
Netvibes is more than just an RSS aggregator – it wants to be your internet start page by offering widgets that let you plug all sorts of things into it, from email feeds to weather reports, address books to social networks. You’re given a blank canvas to work with in Netvibes and add the modules you want. If you just want RSS feeds in tiles on the screen you can add just those, but there are a vast range of feeds available to add. As a time saver Netvibes gets high marks as it allows you to view your email inbox and the latest stories via RSS all at once.
Most RSS aggregators display the stories you want to receive in lists that you can manipulate according to how you want to view them. That is generally quite convenient, but the aggregator serves up a lot of information for you to digest. Feed Journal attempts to help you make better sense of all the incoming news by taking a leaf out of the newspaper industry’s book. Feed Journal lets you publish your own newspaper populated with stories from your RSS feeds. Based on your subscriptions, a PDF several pages long and complete with headlines, captions and photos is created. You can then print it out to read later or read it off the screen. A novel and compelling way to keep up with the news you are interested in.
There are many elements to News Gator, but at heart it’s a sophisticated RSS aggregator that delivers you RSS feeds and podcasts via a web browser for free. There’s a great mobile version for accessing your feeds on your phone and News Gator works well as an aggregator you can access from within Microsoft Outlook, which is great for those of you who spend much of your day within your mail inbox. Outlook has its own standard RSS aggregator which may be sufficient for your needs.