What is RSS ?

“…a format for delivering regularly changing web content” (Attitude Group, 2012)

Also known as a web feed or news feed, an RSS feed is web content encoded in an xml format. It enables you to keep up to date with changes to regularly accessed web resources by delivering this information directly to your feed reader (also known as an aggregator). Feed readers can be browser based (e.g. either existing natively within the browser as in Firefox,  Internet Explorer, Opera or as a browser extension as in Chrome or Safari ), web based (e.g. Feedly, Netvibes, The Old Reader) or desktop based (e.g. RSS Reader, FeedReader). All these have a built-in function to automatically check for updates. The advantage of a web-based option is that you can access it anywhere, anytime.

The presence of an RSS feed on a web page is usually indicated by this image

However you may also see it indicated by any of these images:

Image from: re-used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Types of web content for which you can set up RSS Feeds

It is possible to set up RSS feeds to:

Many websites have feeds set up, however you can generate a feed for any page using your feed reader.

Why should you use RSS feeds?

  • They will save you time
  • Allow you to control when you view information as well as constantly changing research information
  • Easy to use and to integrate into your day-to-day workflow
  • You can view them on any device – desktop, laptop, tablet or smart phone

You can find RSS feeds by checking any web content you regularly access. There are also search engines and directories dedicated to tracking RSS feeds, such as Technorati or Google Blog Search.

For an overview, have a look at this RSS in Plain English video from Commoncraft


There are many apps available to allow you to easily access feeds on your tablet or mobile. These are some of the most popular, which can often be set up to sync to your desktop or online reader.

App Platform Cost
Flipboard iPad/iPhone/Android Free
Feedly iPad/iPhone/Android Free
Reeder iPad/iPhone £2.99

RSS: a case study

Click to see a larger version

Click to see a larger version

Here’s an example of how a physics researcher is using RSS in their workflow. By downloading the Bamboo feed reader Add On for Firefox they monitor new research published in databases such as Web of Science as well as journals such as Nature, Science and Optics Express. This enables them to quickly identify items of interest. They then add any papers worth following up on or other items of interest to Zotero. This is a quick and effective way of keeping up to date using your web browser.


Hammond, T.,  Hannay, T. & Lund, B. (2004) The role of RSS in Science Publishing. D-LIB  Magazine. [Online], 10(2). Available from: doi:10.1045/december2004-hammond [Accessed: 23rd May 2011]

Attitude Group. (nd) What is RSS? RSS Explained. [Online] Available from: [Accessed 27 June 2012].


1. Try out an RSS reader – we suggest Feedly, The Old Reader or Netvibes. If you have a mobile device, try one of the apps too. For some, you will need to register for an account, for others you will need to use an existing Facebook or Google account.

2. Check to see whether your favourite/most used websites have RSS feeds available and add them to your feed list.

3. Do a search on a database you use for your research and see if you can set up a feed for search results.


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