Thing 5: News feeds

dognewsSo many sources! If you’re like us, your bookmarks folder is full of blogs, news sites, and more.

Some update daily, some update monthly, some never seem to change (until they do). It is a challenge to keep track of them all. That’s where news feeds come in.

News feeds present a way to collect updates from multiple websites in one place. Instead of visiting each site separately, you can look at one page that summarises them all – the information comes to you.

You can think of it as a daily newspaper, personalised to your specific research interests and pulled from sites around the web. And the key to setting up your newspaper is the feed.

What are RSS feeds?

RSS (Rich Site Summary – often called Really Simple Syndication) is a web feed format that provides the full text of web content together with links to the original source. Atom feeds are a similar format.

What does a feed look like? This is the RSS feed from this blog:

It looks like gibberish! That’s because it is formatted to be read by a programme, not by a person. If you plug the feed into a feed reader programme, it will format a snippet from the blog post so that you can read it – or see dozens of feeds at a glance.

Feed readers

To access RSS feeds, you need to sign up to a feed reader or aggregator. Feed readers automatically check your subscribed feeds and compile them into a friendly format. In other words, they build your daily newspaper.

Some feed readers are web-based – you can check RSS feeds from inside your browser. Others are programmes that you download and install on your computer. We prefer web-based feed readers, but you can pick whichever method you prefer.

  • Feedly: A really simple and easy to use tool that has lots of sharing capabilities (send to email, save to Evernote, tweet or send to Facebook)

  • Digg Reader: Web-based, but comes with iOS and Android apps for use on your mobile device

  • Pulse: A very visual, magazine-like RSS reader

  • NewsBlur: Another nice online reader with a mobile app for offline reading

I like Feedly. Here’s an example of my feed – a collection of all the posts from all of the public blogs you created in Thing 3:

Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 2.52.13 pm

And here are the same feeds, formatted like a magazine:

Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 2.48.56 pm

Finding feeds

You may have seen this symbol in various places around the web:


Sometimes a website will provide a link with “RSS Feed” in the title. These both indicate that the website has an RSS feed you can add to your reader.

Most blogs and many websites will allow you to subscribe via RSS, even if they don’t have a specific button or link for it. If you don’t see a subscription link, you can copy and paste the feed’s URL into the “Add Content” box or “Subscribe” box in your reader and it will tell you if there is an associated feed. (That’s how I found the feeds for everyone’s blogs, by the way.)

Here are some good feeds to get you started:

Want to be updated whenever Epsom library gets a new book? University of Auckland library feeds have you covered
University of Auckland library feeds

Keep up to date with the latest news, events, and notices through the University of Auckland RSS feed
University of Auckland feeds

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a list of RSS feeds on its sitemap page
Chronicle of Higher Education feeds

Stuff news website has (small!) “RSS” buttons for its subsections. I follow their education feed
Stuff education news feed

RSS feeds are also available for some journals – you can be alerted when a new issues of the journal are published.

try-this-iconTry this

We encourage you to try out one of these readers – subscribe to a few feeds and see if it helps you to manage information.

However, to complete this Thing, we’d just like to see another short blog post. Choose from these topics:

  • How do you organise your online reading? Do you have a bookmarks system or routine, or do you fit your reading into the margins of work / study / life?
  • If you tried a feed reader, how did you like it? Do you see it as a useful tool, and do you think you will use it in future?
  • If you already use a feed reader, share some good feeds that you’ve found. What kind of content do they provide, and why are they useful to you?

explore-further-iconExplore further

From Educause, this document presents an impressive case study of the use of feeds: “Over the semester, the students’ use of web syndication tools shows them how to learn and apply knowledge in a context of continually evolving information. They discover obscure and remarkable resources and become discriminating consumers of what they find online.”
7 things you should know about web syndication

Explore tools that allow you manage subscriptions. In Feedly, there are options at the top and bottom of each item that allow you to save, share or tag the item. You can also use the ‘Personalize’ option (in the left-hand column) to categorise your feeds. Managing your categories can be particularly helpful if you subscribe to a large number of feeds.

Add an extension to your browser to make subscribing to feeds even easier. Try these ones:
RSS Subscription extension (for Google Chrome browser)
RSS Icon in URL bar (for Firefox browser)


Parts of this Thing were adapted from 23 Things for Research Oxford / CC By-NC-SA 3.0 and 23 Mobile Things / CC By-NC-SA 3.0.

Header image: Carterse / Flickr / CC By-SA 2.0
Feed icon: Originally distributed by the Mozilla Foundation under a MPL/GPL/LGPL tri-license.
Icons: Everaldo Coelho and YellowIcon / GNU Lesser General Public License

This post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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