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Handbook on cultural web user interaction
First edition (September 2008)
edited by MINERVA EC Working Group "Quality, Accessibility and Usability"

4.4      Another way to expose resources: syndication & RSS

An alternative way to make information about resources available is to separate the resource (in our case the article) and its description. In such a scenario the description of the resource is expressed in XML or RDF/XML in an external file, which is linked to the actual resource.  This model is referred to as syndication. ‘Syndication’ often uses the RSS file format. RSS, a form of XML, stands for Rich Site Summary, RDF Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication. An RSS file (also known as RSS feed or RSS channel) consists in a list of elements (ITEMS), each of which contains a TITLE, a DESCRIPTION and the LINK to a web resource. These are metadata, with the actual contents totally separate, but accessible from the link in the RSS file.

The use of the RSS feed is immediate. Once an RSS file is available on a web site, the parties involved can simply take a file from the site and reuse its contents in a variety of ways. There are various versions of RSS, but RSS applications usually support any RSS version.

An RSS feed allows potential users to see the data of some content providers without necessarily visiting their site. For example, many daily newspapers offer their contents with the RSS system (see also for cultural institutions offering this service). Thanks to the RSS feeds, you can receive on your computer updates on the latest news published by the site. What’s more, anyone who has a blog can spread the news of that daily in a simple and immediate manner.

To access the RSS contents in a few easy steps it is sufficient to have an Internet connection and a special programme called “aggregator”. There are many that can be downloaded on one’s PC or that can be used through the web. Some aggregators can be integrated with common browsers and/or electronic mail programmes.

4.4.1      Feed readers

A feed reader is a programme that is able to carry out the download of an RSS feed (the user only has to indicate the URL of the feed to the programme), parse it and display its content on the basis of the user’s preferences. Feed readers often have advanced functions; for example they can automatically detect if the feed producer has updated the feed, carrying out their download at regular intervals.

Many feed readers can be freely downloaded from the net, for example
                        •     Feedreader (Windows)
                        •     Sharpreader (Windows)
                        •     Sage plug-ins (FireFox/ThunderBird)
                        •     Urss plug-ins (Mozilla)
                        •     Steaw (Linux)
                        •     Netnewswire Lite (Mac OS X)

Example of an RSS feed, from the UK’s 24-hour Museum

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