RSS is a web 2.0 tool which allows users to easily create personalised newsfeeds drawing on the collective intelligence of the wider web. RSS services are also available in mobile app versions, and thus have some connection with mobile learning. In recent years, the mechanics of RSS have become less visible to users, but it underpins crucial web 2.0 channels like social networking and social media newsfeeds.
RSS refers to ‘Really Simple Syndication’ and facilitates the setting up of newsfeeds, or news aggregators, composed of automatically updated content in a centralised location. This means that if you set up a newsfeed from websites of interest (such as media sites or blogs), it will be automatically updated whenever the original sites are updated. (Note that an alternative to RSS, Atom, can also be used to underpin newsfeeds.) Like folksonomies, RSS feeds are about pulling together distributed content from across the web but, unlike folksonomies, they provide a constant stream of up-to-date information in real time from preselected sources.
Educators can set up RSS feeds on relevant topics, or students can work together to set up group or class feeds on topics they are studying. Drawing feeds from other sites into your own website, blog or wiki allows you to incorporate others’ views and perspectives, potentially leading to the co-construction of knowledge within a new frame.
For a light-hearted and simple explanation of how RSS works, you might like to take a look at the CommonCraft video RSS in Plain English. To start with, you need to select websites which have RSS (or Atom) webfeeds, usually signalled by the icon above, and subscribe to them (which is free of cost). Such webfeeds are typically found on sites that are updated on a regular basis, such as media websites, blogs or podcasting sites. There are two main set-up options, as follows:
- to set up an online aggregator, you can use services like Feedly, FeedReader Online or Flipboard, which create pages built around your nominated feeds. Many online aggregators are available in mobile app versions, and there are also dedicated RSS apps. Note that the formerly popular Google Reader was retired in 2013, and Bloglines was retired in 2015. The demise of these services points to the increasing automation of newsfeeds, many of which now require little or no manual user intervention. Another related possibility is to use more general website or dashboard services which incorporate RSS feed functionality, such as Netvibes, Protopage or others listed on the websites page. Further options are listed in Wikipedia’s Comparison of Feed Aggregators.
- to incorporate RSS feeds into a pre-existing webpage, blog or wiki, you can use the built-in widgets which have become common in website, blogging and wiki services, or you can use a separate RSS widget service such as Feedwind or RSS Feed Widget (for an example of the former in use, see the Blogs to Follow page of this website).
Many contemporary aggregator services which work on the principle of RSS simplify the collection of feeds in such a way as to render RSS almost invisible to users. This is true of many social networking and social media newsfeeds. Other variations on the concept include Google Alerts, which regularly emails users the results of Google searches on terms of their choice; and more manual aggregator services like Symbaloo. IFTTT is a sophisticated service that allows users to create rules to connect their actions across digital platforms and/or devices.
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