Contributed by: Joeri Bruyninckx (FASoS)
The internet has made it much easier for young researchers to keep up to date with the latest developments in their fields. Many journals feature OnlineFirst articles prior to print publication; publishers announce expected publications online; and hundreds of science, technology, and business blogs keep the pulse of their field. But while this has expanded our reach of information and the pace at which we process it, it does not make it more surveyable per se.
If you ever dreamt of having a digital secretary who collects, sorts and summarizes that stream of information, you might be interested in using RSS feeds. RSS feeds (short for Real Simple Syndication) allow you to see what is new to your favorite webpages, by collecting their updates automatically in a standard format in one central place, your ‘feedreader’. Such a reader can be a simple software on your desktop (such as FeedReader), a folder in your Outlook Inbox, or an application in your web-browser (such as in GoogleReader or the Favorites folder in Internet Explorer).
RSS-collectable web-pages can be recognized by a (usually orange) icon or button stating RSS/atom/XML. There are different ways to subscribe to such feeds, but the simplest is to right-click on the RSS icon, Select Copy Link Location to copy the URL of the feed and paste this URL into your Feedreader. Alternative ways can be found here.
Sometimes webpages do not offer RSS services themselves. In that case, the Page2RSS website offers a very simple way to create an RSS feed for that webpage. Comparably, GoogleAlerts allows you to generate RSS feeds of new Google results that match the search terms that you selected. That way you are updated every time Google finds new content relevant to your topic of research.
I use all of these features to keep up to date with some fifty journals’ tables of contents, as well as new publications (books, articles, blog posts) on my topic of research that appear online. For keeping up to date with academic content, you may opt either for a web-based or a desktop-based feedreader; both have their advantages and disadvantages.
Web-based: GoogleReader (Free)
- Easy to get started with
- Accessible everywhere
- Can be integrated with Chrome browser
- Easy to share feeds with peers
- Requires internet-connection and Google account
Desktop-based: FeedReader (Free)
- Easy to get started with
- ‘Smart feeds’ specify filters for information
- Flexible organization and sharing of information
- Allows you to read offline
- Bound to single desktop (although its alternative, Feed Demon allows synchronization across computers too)
Finally, you may also be interested in:
- An online tutorial and instruction on how to set-up and use RSS feeds
- Detailed comparison of functionalities and advantages of web-based and desktop-based RSS readers
- A list of available tools to enhance your usage of RSS
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