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What is this?

An RSS file is basically a list of headlines encoded so that it can be easily used by another program or website. RSS is usually said to stand for "Really Simple Syndication" and it is relatively easy to implement and use. RSS is a form of XML (eXtensible Markup Language), which means that each piece of data in the list — a headline, a description of a story — is coded separately so that a program will know exactly what to do with it.

Programs that know what to do with RSS files are called "news aggregators," and there are a lot of different options. Most are very easy to use. They all let you read headlines from dozens or hundreds of news sites at one time. You simply plug in the addresses of the RSS files you want, such as the ones listed above.

You can either sign up for an online service, or download the aggregator software and install it on your computer. Once you have done that, right-click on the 'XML' button above, and choose "Copy Link Location" from the menu, and add it to your aggregator manually. This is a slightly different process for each aggregator, so look to the help files that come with it.

Some popular downloadable aggregators are FeedDemon (for Windows), NetNewsWire (for Mac), Radio (for Windows or Mac), KlipFolio (for Windows ), NewsWatcher (for Windows XP), NewzCrawler (for Windows), and Shrook (for Mac OS 10). Pluck integrates right into IE 6.0 on Windows XP and 2000.

If you don't want to install any software, you might try websites that do the aggregation for you. NewsGator lets you read online or in your e-mail software (add your feeds here) while Bloglines offers a very slick interface. My Feedster marries an aggregator to an RSS search engine and Oddpost (for Windows) is a paid web-based e-mail service that includes a built-in aggregator.

Yahoo! lets you add RSS feeds to your personalized page.

MSN now has a comparable capability.

Other software packages that work only with Windows and require Microsoft's .NET to be installed on your PC (you probably have it if you have Windows XP, but if you have to ask, you probably don't want to check) are: VoxLite, Wildgrape News Desk, SharpReader, BlogExpress, and RSS Bandit (open source).

If you do want to install new software, you might try the Firefox Web browser, which lets you save RSS feeds as "Live Bookmarks" that update regularly (the Sage extension makes Firefox a more useful aggregator. The Opera browser integrates support for RSS feeds into its email reader.

Other interesting RSS applications: a ticker called Enewsbar gives you scrolling headlines at the top or bottom of your screen (Windows and IE required); nntp//rss lets you read RSS files in Outlook Express or any other newsgroup-reading software (java required); and ToolButton adds a toolbar to your browser, with all the headlines for a site under a button.

Another thing RSS lets you do is put Herald headlines on your site, which update themselves automatically when the RSS feeds update. One way to do this is to use the Feed2JS service. Enter the URL for one of the Herald's feeds, copy the line of javascript supplied, and simply insert it into your site's HTML code. Another flexible service is RSS Digest. If you want to do-it-yourself, WebReference has instructions for using Perl, and CaRP uses PHP (as well as offering a low-cost service where they run the scripts for you). Another PHP option is LastRSS.

For more information on the implications and uses of RSS, you can read these articles from the Online Journalism Review and the American Press Institute. For more on using and creating RSS feeds, turn to this tutorial from the Utah State Government. Another useful and extensive list of RSS resources is at LockerGnome.

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