Really Simple Syndication (RSS)

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Last Update

  • Updated.jpg 2 December 2015


See also Current awareness services in health libraries | Google reader replacements | Mobile computing | Social media aggregators | Subject librarian 2.0

RSS or really simple syndication has been an important social media tool and syndication format since the early days of the web. However, the habits of digital users are changing with lightning speed and moving to mobiles. Hence the rise of our Twitter- and Facebook-obsessed social media information practices. The ability to aggregate content is still important but the RSS tools and readers that filled our browsers and consciousness only a few years ago are now on the periphery. That said, there may be some evidence to suggest that syndication technology will remain important for some time to come. For example, RSS makes syndication possible by keeping users current with changes happening at their favourite sites all of which can be accomplished without visiting the websites. To learn about updates at a website, an RSS feed can be cut and paste into a reader and new content will appear. To find XML code at a website, look for "XML", "RSS" or "syndicate this site". These technologies allow users to see updates in XML (a markup language for data formats), and will deliver them to the receiver's reader as a file or feed. An RSS aggregator such as Feedly is needed to read feeds. Some social media enthusiasts have switched to using Twitter in lieu of their RSS readers.

Where RSS feeds are used

  1. Blogs - to alert readers when new information is posted
  2. Newspapers and journals - to alert readers when news is published
  3. Press releases and announcements - RSS is a useful tool for formal announcements, such as those from Health Canada.
  4. News updates - Google News
  5. PubMed has an RSS feature for current awareness as do other databases such as EBSCO.

Readers, Aggregators and Searching RSS feeds

Broadly speaking, RSS aggregators are categorized as follows:

  • A list of RSS readers:
  • Standalone clients - use to downloaded results to your computer. SharpReader is a popular free standalone RSS reader.
  • Plugins can be used into some browsers and e-mail systems such as Microsoft Outlook, and downloaded to your desktop.
  • Google Reader and iGoogle were very popular readers but were retired in 2013.

For an introduction to RSS, use an aggregator. No software is needed, and your account can be accessed from any computer. MedWorm is a free medical RSS provider and search tool built on data collected from RSS feeds. It collects updates from 2500 data sources. MedWorm provides new feeds for quick browsing.

RSS feeds for TOCs

  • Alternatively, you can also set up RSS feeds to customized searches (including searches by journal title) in PubMed and in Ovid.

Top RSS Feeds in Medicine

Specialized Lists of Health Research RSS Feeds

See Canadian Directory to Foundations & NIH Grants Website for information on writing grants.

Using RSS feeds in health

The content delivered via web feeds is usually in a markup language. As health websites are updated, the RSS feeds that have been created on those sites help to notify end-users that changes have been made. Often, the RSS feed is a summarized version like an abstract or information snippet rather than the text of a full article.

RSS and other web-based feeds have offered advantages for the user experience:

  1. Users can be notified of new content without having to actively check for it in e-mail.
  2. Information presented to users in an aggregator is typically simpler, and easy to read.
  3. Numerous medical journal feeds, pages, and websites are now integrated in one place.
  4. Media files like podcasts and vodcasts can be automatically downloaded without user intervention.

RSS readers and aggregators like Feedly and MedWorm monitor live feeds and display articles as they are published. Most major websites and journals in medicine now have RSS and XML feeds. Some allow selecting between RSS and Atom formats.


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