Recently I mentioned RSS news feeds as a useful, versatile online tool, but because it has been a while since I’ve discussed RSS feeds, an update is certainly in order.
The sheer volume of information on the web makes quick and efficient searching an indispensable skill, but once you have become quick and efficient at finding the information you need, a new problem arises: The information changes! All the good medical, news, and other information-based websites change and update their content on a regular, but unpredictable basis. And checking each one for new information can be very tedious, if you can remember to do it at all.
Many sites offer an e-mail service to notify you of new content, but multiple e-mail subscriptions clutter your inbox and often can’t select out the information you’re really interested in.RSS (which stands for “Rich Site Summary” or “Really Simple Syndication,” depending on whom you ask) is a file format, and websites use that format (or a similar one called Atom) to produce a summary file, or “feed,” of new content, along with links to full versions of that content. When you subscribe to a given website’s feed, you’ll receive a summary of new content each time the website is updated.
Thousands of websites now offer RSS feeds, including most of the large medical information services, all the major news organizations, and many web logs.
Many readers are free, but those with the most advanced features usually charge a fee of some sort. (As always, I have no financial interest in any enterprise discussed in this column.) A comprehensive and more or less up-to-date list of available readers can be found in the Wikipedia article
It’s not always easy to find out whether a particular website offers a feed, because there is no universally recognized method of indicating its existence. Look for a link to “RSS” or “Syndicate This,” or an orange rectangle with the letters “RSS,” or “XML” (don’t ask). These links are not always on the home page. You may need to consult the site map to find a link to a page explaining available feeds, and how to find them.
Some of the major sites have multiple feeds to choose from. For example, you can generate a feed of current stories related to the page that you are following on Google News by clicking the RSS link on any Google News page.
In addition to notifying you of important news headlines, changes to your favorite websites, and new developments in any medical (or other) field of interest to you, RSS feeds have many other uses. Some will notify you of new products in a store or catalog, new newsletter issues (including e-mail newsletters), weather and other changing-condition alerts, and the addition of new items to a database – or new members to a group.
It can work the other way as well: If you want readers of your website, blog, or podcast to receive the latest news about your practice, such as new treatments and procedures you’re offering – or if you want to know immediately anytime your name pops up in news or gossip sites – you can create your own RSS feed. Next month, I’ll explain exactly how to do that.
Dr. Eastern practices dermatology and dermatologic surgery in Belleville, N.J. He is the author of numerous articles and textbook chapters, and is a longtime monthly columnist for Dermatology News. Write to him at