Now that RSS feeds have become standard for most websites or blogs that provide regularly updated content, it’s very easy to aggregate the content of many websites in one centralized “dashboard.” RSS stands for really simple syndication. WordPress and other blogging platforms lead they way in automatically creating an RSS feed, which is a simple text file that follows open web standards for identifying a piece of content by its title, description, date of publication, and other information. Essentially, websites and blogs are publicly posting a list of their latest content. This is the feed. You can grab the feed, which include hyperlinks to the actual content. You don’t have to visit the website to read the title of an article, or even the opening sentences, because this information is included in the RSS feed. However, if your interest is peaked, you can then easily click through on the hyperlink and go to the website where the content resides.
Understanding how RSS feeds works isn’t important. What matters is knowing how to grab them and display content in an easy to scan format.
Popular RSS tools include Netvibes, iGoogle, and My Yahoo. There are of course, hundreds of tools to choose from, but these three are robust and easy to use. Here’s how they work.
Let’s say you work for a design firm. You want to keep up on the latest trends for designers, any design news, and any opinion a blogger might have about design. Now, you could bookmark a whole bunch of sites and regularly visit them to see what’s new, or you could grab the RSS feeds from all of those sites and see a long list of the content headlines. You could list them by date to see what is new. A long list of course would not be as valuable as some way to organize all those headlines. This is where an RSS tool comes in. You can create categories of information, and then cluster the relevant RSS feeds under those category headings. For example, you might want to have a category for magazines, and a separate one for blogs. In Netvibes or iGoogle, you can create tabs for each of these sections. Then, when you click on a tab, you can see four or five or a dozen feeds listing several articles all on one page. At a glance, and by clicking on all of your tabs, you could quickly read hundreds of article headlines and then click on just the ones that interest you. In this way, you can save a tremendous amount of time.
These RSS feed aggregation sites include drop and drag tools that let you move the feeds around in your browser, until you are satisfied with how they are laid out. Time is precious these days, so if you want to track 20 or 30 sites in just a few minutes, you really need to aggregate the new content. Sometimes a site doesn’t make it easy to find the new content, but with an RSS feed, you can actually bypass the webmaster’s ineptitude and simply find the latest updates in the site’s feed.
If I had to choose my favorite RSS feed aggregator, I would pick Netvibes, which lets you quickly skin a template based on whatever colors appeal to you. If you get tired of the design, you can pick a new skin.