RSS feeds have become a very popular way of making websites look fresh and newsy, but many people don't know what they are and are put off by what looks like technical gobbledygook.
RSS stands for really simple syndication and refers to web feed formats used to publish content such as blog entries, news headlines, audio and video. It's the web version of the tickertape news that was sent out for syndication across the wires, and it can be as simple as embedding a YouTube video on your site.
First, you need to select your RSS feeds - websites that make information available via RSS. These feeds might be news, weather, sports results, blogs, even book lists - whatever the site owners have made available via RSS to other web users. If you look at the BBC, each news page offers an RSS feed, meaning you can take the feed of news articles and add it to your site. Subscription to RSS feeds is normally free, although high-value content may come at a cost.
You will need an RSS reader - a piece of software that takes the RSS and produces code for your website. Sometimes these readers are provided by the websites that offer the feed. Other RSS providers, such as the BBC, don't provide them and suggest you use one of the free ones available.
Finally, there is the code produced by the RSS reader, which you add to your website. Many readers allow you some level of customisation, but most of the free ones include their own small advertising link.
Find a set of information you want to display on your site that offers an RSS feed, sign up for a free RSS reader, paste in the URL of the RSS feed you want and dump the code it gives you onto your website. Immediately, you have up-to-date, refreshed weather, news or sports scores on your site, without any extra work or intervention.
- Sue Fidler is an independent charity ICT and internet consultant.