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Putting the Simple in Real Simple Syndication (RSS Feeds)

How can you keep up with the never-ending parade of news on HIV/AIDS prevention, testing, treatment, and research?

Many of our AIDS.gov colleagues use a great tool–RSS feeds–to help visitors to their websites meet the challenge of keeping current. But many others haven‘t adopted this new media tool yet–possibly because they are not familiar with the tool, or they are intimidated by the technology.

We’d like to change that! Today we’ll talk about RSS feeds in simple terms and encourage you to give them a try.

What is an RSS Feed?
Fred Smith, Senior Technologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explained to us what RSS feeds are and how they work.

"’RSS’ stands for ‘Real Simple Syndication.’ RSS feeds are a way for websites to distribute their content to people automatically," Fred told us. "You start with a news reader (more on that below) and ‘subscribe’ to a particular website or topic. Then updates appear in your news reader whenever a new item is added to that website."

For example, if you want to get updated posts to this blog, you can click on the RSS feed on this page.

RSS screen shotOnce you subscribe, your news reader will let you know whenever we add a new post–you don’t have to keep checking back at AIDS.gov to see if we have added new content.

We use RSS feeds to provide us with HIV/AIDS and other health-related news. The CDC has over a dozen RSS feeds on various topics, including HIV/AIDS Prevention Resources and the National Prevention Information Network’s (NPIN) Daily Update.

Our AIDS.gov team also subscribes the National Institutes of Health’s AIDSinfo, This Month in HIV Exit Disclaimer, Medscape’s HIV/AIDS Exit Disclaimer, and others.

How to Receive an RSS Feed
To receive RSS feeds, you need an RSS-enabled browser or some type of "news reader" to subscribe to a feed. These tools will let you know when your subscriptions have new content.There are several ways you can receive RSS feeds:

  • Newer versions of Web browsers, such as Firefox Exit Disclaimer and Internet Explorer 7 Exit Disclaimer enable you to read RSS feeds and subscribe to them from the browser itself.
  • A few widely-used, free, online RSS readers include GoogleReader Exit Disclaimer, NetVibes Exit Disclaimer, and Bloglines Exit Disclaimer. There are several commercial versions as well, and mobile versions for most Internet-enabled cell phones and PDAs.
  • My Yahoo! Exit Disclaimer and iGoogle Exit Disclaimer allow you to add your own RSS feeds to a customized homepage.
  • There are also off-line newsreaders, including NetNewsWire Exit Disclaimer (Mac) and FeedDemon Exit Disclaimer (Windows).
  • You can even get updates via e-mail, using free services such as Feedblitz Exit Disclaimer, ZapTXT Exit Disclaimer, and SendMeRSS Exit Disclaimer.

Should you create an RSS feed for your website?
If you have an audience that would benefit from the new information you place on your website, then the answer is "Yes!"

As Fred noted, "A feed for your website or blog is a rapid, low-cost way to get your content to your visitors"—particularly if you’ve been relying on more traditional ways of getting information out (e.g., paper mailings).

But RSS feeds do more than save time and money–they also help to keep your audience informed about your activities, events, and other news. And they do that by delivering information to people in the way they want to get it.

How to Add an RSS Feed to Your Site
The best news is that, as their popularity grows, RSS feeds get easier and easier to use! If you decide to add an RSS feed to your program or organization’s website or blog, there are online tutorials to help you write your own RSS feed.

Blogging software like TypePad Exit Disclaimer, WordPress Exit Disclaimer, or photo-sharing sites like Flickr Exit Disclaimer, can automatically create RSS feeds for you. Feed management services like Feedburner Exit Disclaimer can help you publicize and track subscribers. You can find other technical assistance at:

The Real Reason You Should Try RSS Feeds
RSS feeds bring the news to you. If you are overloaded with data–but still expected to stay on top of it–RSS feeds are a tool that can make your job, and the fight against HIV/AIDS easier.

How are you using (or planning to use) RSS feeds in the fight against HIV/AIDS? Please share your stories with us!

And stay tuned for next week’s discussion on accessibility and Section 508…

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