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Keep it simple

Most casual users have never heard of RSS, but webmasters could scarcely live without it.

Have you ever heard of RSS? Most casual users haven’t, but a number of webmasters couldn’t live without it.

RSS is a lightweight XML format designed for sharing headlines and other Web content. First used in 1997, RSS has evolved into a popular means of sharing content between sites.

The format solves a number of problems commonly faced by webmasters, including spikes in traffic. It’s used by major news sites such as Wired, Reuters, BBC, MSNBC, and even in personal blogs and Web sites.

In fact, pretty much anything that can be broken down into individual items can be syndicated by the use of RSS: a list of recent changes to your company Web site, new postings to a message board, even the revision history of an online FAQ. Once information about each item is in RSS format, an RSS reader (usually called news aggregators) can periodically check for changes and respond accordingly.

There are many different RSS readers for the Windows PC, depending on the browser you use. Typically, the RSS program works as an add-on for your browser, and resides in the sidebar in the form of several clickable links. When you click on an RSS feed, it expands into your main window, linking you to the news item in question.

Worth exploring

As always, if your browser of choice is Internet Explorer, you have the most choices. One such choice is Pluck, a free aggregator that will run on Windows 2000 as well as Win XP.

The program is powerful, easy-to-use, and offers a plethora of options, including bookmark synchronization and sharing, which means you can share your favorite RSS feeds with your friends. Pluck can also continuously monitor searches on Google, Amazon, and eBay, keeping you up-to-date on the status of whatever it is you look for on those sites.

More information (as well as the free download) on Pluck can be found at

Standard equipment

If you use Netscape 7 or Mozilla, the browsers come with RSS readers already integrated into the software. That’s definitely a good thing, and you do have the choice to use a third-party RSS reader, but the selection isn’t nearly as abundant as it is with IE.

Fortunately, one of the few readers available for Mozilla and Netscape is also one of the best across the board. News Monster, which comes in a free and professional version, is the Cadillac of the Netscape-flavored aggregators.

It does everything that Pluck does, plus it has the ability to obtain threads from non-RSS sites like CNN and the New York Times. Also, it’s easy to set up and use, it’s versatile, and it supports all of the various RSS standards. What more could you ask for? The free version is supported by ads, while the professional edition comes ad-free and costs $30.

Firefox, Mozilla’s leaner, meaner cousin, (and my personal browser of choice) doesn’t come with RSS integrated but it’s easy enough to add. Installing an extension called Sage will add RSS capability to Firefox within a matter of seconds. Sage doesn’t seem to have as many options as some of the other readers, but it’s fast, free, and it gets the job done.

Setup is amazingly easy; just click on the XPI file, restart Firefox, and you’re done. You can search for threads that interest you via a radio box connected to Feedster (see sidebar) or click the magnifying glass whenever you’re on a site to see if it offers RSS. The program is simple but effective, and cuts out a lot of the fat that other programs have. Just like Firefox itself.

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