More than six years ago I predicted RSS would explode. Perhaps I used the wrong word. For most web users the earth did not move; they either remained blissfully unaware of RSS or couldn’t care less about it. And these days we have so many better ways of sharing latest updates. Who needs RSS when we have Twitter? And Google’s popular RSS Reader has been withdrawn. So is RSS dead? Far from it.

RSS matters

RSS is ubiquitous but it does its job without fanfare, behind the scenes. It is not a sexy platform like Twitter or Facebook but a standard method of syndicating resource data (typically from blog posts or news articles) between sites. It is an open standard. No-one owns RSS, everyone uses it.

From Dieter Bohn in The Verge on “Why RSS still matters”:

RSS is built so deeply into the bones of so many websites and web services that we take it for granted. Your favorite websites and blogs all usually offer RSS, automatically, with very little effort from their developers. It matters for the web that websites have a structured way to send their data out to apps and to other websites. Many of the apps that are suggested as a viable replacement pull just as much from RSS as they do from social feeds. More importantly, they pull from RSS freely, but they pull from Facebook and Twitter only because those companies let them.

RSS does not matter to the average end-user who really doesn’t need to know about it. But it matters to the “information manager”. That may be you as an individual wanting to curate your own information update flow; it may be you as a blogger wanting to share some of that flow with your audience; it may be you as a professional information manager tasked with curating the flow for your organisation; it may be you as a commercial publisher wishing to leverage the flow and add value.

I’ll make the assumption that as a Newsletter reader RSS matters to you and offer you the tips below. If you need more on how to use RSS, there are many articles out there (try www.problogger.net/what-is-rss). Bear in mind that Google pulled its RSS Reader in July.

Finding feeds

Always first look for the RSS feed icon on the page whose latest content you want to monitor. It may not be white out of orange as shown; it’s the broadcast symbol that is the key.

Some sites may refer to “Atom” feeds. Atom is a particular flavour of RSS, functioning in the same way.

Feed URL syntax

Can’t find a feed? Chances are you can guess it for principal update pages. To the page URL append one of the following to create the default posts feed URL for the most popular blog/website platforms:

/feed (WordPress sites – the majority); or
/feeds/posts/default (Blogger sites).

For example, the online Newsletter feed is at www.infolaw.co.uk/newsletter/feed

As well as subscribing to site feeds, you can also usually subscribe to feeds for particular categories or tags and to search results. Here are a couple of examples from the Newsletter site reflecting standard WordPress syntax for category and search results:

www.infolaw.co.uk/newsletter/category/blogging/feed
www.infolaw.co.uk/newsletter/search/copyright/feed

Government feeds

The new GOV.UK site provides Atom feeds for every conceivable category of new content: news by Department, by (Worldwide) Country and by Topic, and new documents for Policies, Publications and Announcements, filtered by department, subject and more. Just visit the desired page and look out for the “ atom” link. For departments, countries and topics you can get the relevant feed by simply adding .atom to the end of the page URL. For example www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-education.atom

Custom law alerts

It’s as easy for a site to provide an RSS feed of dynamic search results as it is to produce the equivalent web results page. Such feeds are a very effective way to pull custom alerts on specific topics.

It’s good to report that BAILII has now implemented just that. Do a BAILII search for the term you want to monitor (for example aircraft noise) and then get the feed from the top of the page where you see “ RSS feed for this search”.

Now go to legislation.gov.uk and you can do similar for legislation there. There is no handy feed link provided (yet. I shall suggest it), but take an advanced search URL and in front of the ? insert /data.feed and at the end append &sort=published. For example http://www.legislation.gov.uk/all/data.feed?text=”Civil Aviation Act 2012″&sort=published

Nick Holmes is joint editor of the Newsletter.

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