Really Simple Syndication (RSS)

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Last Update

  • Updated.jpg 5 February 2015


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

RSS or really simple syndication has been an important social media format due to its electronic alerting and information 'syndication' potential for users. However, that may be changing in our Twitter- and Facebook-obsessed world. The ability to aggregate content continues to figure in the use of social media and syndication technology will nonetheless remain an important tool for some time to come.

RSS makes syndication possible by keeping users current with changes happening at their favourite sites all of which is accomplished without visiting those websites. To see updates, RSS users simply cut and paste some code into their RSS readers and new content appears in the reader. To find this 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 Google reader 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:

  • Google Reader and iGoogle are free readers
  • Here's 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.

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 OvidSP.

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 Bloglines 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.

The future of RSS

When RSS was born, news sites and well-known blogs dominated online content production. Tools like Bloglines and Google Reader presented an easy way to surf the net, helping users to find and subscribe to news sources, and having articles and posts of interest delivered to them in one place, hot off the press. In 2013, there are hundreds of smaller news sites, content aggregation sites, and blogs, continually creating content. With this never-ending explosion of incoming information, people can’t be bothered with RSS for receiving and scrolling through hundreds of articles. In many ways we no longer care where our news comes from, we just want the latest updates immediately and more conveniently delivered to us. And we want them in easy-to-digest bites throughout the day that we can access anytime, from anywhere—on our laptops, iPads and mobile devices.

Think about major happenings around the world in recent years, like the Arab Spring or Occupy Wall Street for example. Waiting for a big news source like CNN to write an article about the latest update, then finding it later in an RSS Reader became pointless when the same info could be found immediately on Twitter or your Facebook newsfeed. In this way, social media far overshadows RSS in satisfying our growing thirst for quick and easy news. The people we follow on Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn are the new RSS feeds: actively sourcing and curating the most current and up-to-date information for us.


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