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Using RSS feeds

RSS ("Really Simple Syndication") is a way to subscribe to web content in an efficient, flexible, and convenient way.  To make use of RSS, you need an RSS reader (a program that understands RSS), and an RSS feed (a particular source of content that you want to track).  You can track as many RSS feeds as you like—your reader will keep them sorted out.

RSS Readers

There are many programs available that make using RSS feeds easy.  Once you gather all of your favourite sources of content on the web into your reader, you will find that it makes your web surfing much easier and more efficient.  Interesting links find you, rather than the other way  around.

A good list of RSS readers (or aggregators) can be found at  Note that there are many different programs available, for many different operating systems.  Some of the most common are:

  • Microsoft Outlook 2007
  • Windows Live Mail
  • Apple Mail
  • Thunderbird

Notice how these popular readers are actually email programs.  When you add an RSS feed to one of these email programs, the feed appears like another mailbox.  When new links of interest appear in the feed, they show up like new messages in your email.  That means you can spot new links of interest appearing on the Internet at the same time that you check your mail.

There are also web-based readers, if you do not have (or don't want to install) a special program.  For example:

People who use these web portals as their home page may find it most convenient to subscribe to their RSS feeds there, so that their home page automatically includes information from their favourite feeds.  For example, iGoogle will track stories on all of your favourite sites, as well as provide you with widgets, games, and other distractions.  Yahoo has similar features for its users.  Use the "Add content" or "Add subscription" links to add new feeds to your page.

Some browsers have integrated RSS feed handling.  (eg. IE 7, Firefox)  If you subscribe to a feed in your browser, then the feed shows up in your favorites or bookmarks.  These are sometimes called "live bookmarks" because they automatically change/update to show you the current contents of the feed.

RSS Feeds

RSS feeds are usually noted on websites with a small "RSS" link, or by using the RSS icon, shown here in a blown-up version.  They are common on news sites, blogs, and any other site that regularly releases new articles.

An RSS feed link points to a feed, not to a normal web page.  If your browser understands RSS, then it will know what to do with the feed if you click on it.  The following browsers are RSS-friendly:

  • Internet Explorer 7
  • Firefox (version 2 or higher recommended)
  • Safari 2 & 3

These browsers may have some convenient functions built in to subscribe to the feed using a recommended feed reader.  If that is the reader you intend you use, you are in luck:  just do as your browser suggests.  If not, then you should copy the feed URL, and give it directly to your preferred feed reader.

If you have an older browser that does not know what do to with the feed (for example, if it displays the technical feed data, or if it asks you to save the feed to a local file), then what you really want to do is save the feed URL.  You can do this by right-clicking on the feed link, and copying the link to your clipboard.  Then you can paste this URL into a reader program.

ExSite and RSS

Various ExSite plug-ins will automatically generate RSS feeds.  For examples, you will find RSS links at the end of news listings, blogs, and forums.  If you want to track these feeds without having to manually check the page on a regular basis, then either click on those RSS links (if your browser knows RSS), or right-click on the link and save the RSS address.

Then add the RSS feed link to your favourite RSS reader.  (Every reader has a slightly different procedure to follow, so consult your documentation.)  Once you have done this, you should be able to preview a list of recent articles or links in that feed.

The feed links are previews or teasers.  They give you a subject and a short description to help you decide if the link is of interest.  The description may be simplified in its formatting to make it RSS-compatible, which means some formatting nuances such as linebreaks or quoted comments may not be clear in the summary.  However, following the link takes you to the original material with proper formatting.

Feed Security

Feeds that point to private (member-only) content may encounter ExSite security rules that may block access to the original content.  For example, 

Feeds may point to member-only pages.  If that is the case, then following a feed link may take you to a login screen (if you are not already logged in).  Simply log in to proceed to the protected content.  Once logged in, other feed links should work directly.

Feeds may point to member-only plug-in content.  The page or plug-in may be usable by the public, but the particular item selected (eg. a comment in a member-only forum) may be restricted.  If you are not logged in, these links will lead to an error message saying that you are not permitted to view that content.  Log in using the regular method for accessing the members-only area of the site, and then the feed link will work.

Feeds themselves may be secure, requiring authorization to use.  If the feed itself is restricted, then ExSite may include a special security code in the feed URL, which allows you to access it.  This will make the feed URL long and complicated.  Without such a code, other users cannot see the feed (or will see a special permission denied feed instead), and it is impossible to just guess a code. Do not give away your security code carelessly, as it is basically your private key to view the restricted feed.  Secure feeds do not automatically log you in to the website to view the secure content;  they simply allow you to access the feed's preview.  Following a link to restricted content will lead to the same login issues noted above.

See the attached screenshots for examples of using RSS.


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