Typically, if people want to see whether new information has been added to a web site, they would go to the web site and look for new content. For example, if they want to see whether CNN has added articles to its web site since the last time they checked, they would go to the site and look for new articles. If CNN was the only web site that they wanted to check for updates, this procedure is simple and makes sense. However, if they wish to monitor the content of multiple web sites (news, blogs, etc.), RSS feeds can provide a more efficient way. RSS feeds can notify users when new headlines, updates, or other content appears on web sites. Rather than checking the web sites for new content, the new content comes to them.
On many web sites, the letters RSS or XML, the word Feed or Feeds, some sort of an orange symbol, or a combination of these things appear. These are all indications that the web site has an RSS feed. The acronym, RSS, can stand for a few different things (Really Simple Syndication and Rich Site Summary are the most common); however, the term really functions as simple short-hand for the concept of a web site feed.
In order to subscribe to and read RSS feeds, an RSS aggregator, or reader, is needed. Most RSS readers are available online for free. Common readers include Bloglines, My Yahoo, NewsGator, and Google Reader. Using any of these readers, users can subscribe to the RSS feeds for web sites that interest them. As these web sites are updated, their RSS feeds are updated with headlines, which may include excerpts from the article. The reader automatically checks the selected feeds for updates and collects the new information. When the user checks the reader, the new content from all of the web sites is organized by web site and listed in reverse chronological order. Users can review the new content of 10, 50, or 200 web sites by simply by looking at the RSS reader.
Virtually all online newspapers and news sources (The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Columbus Dispatch, CNN, Fox News, etc.) have RSS feeds. Similarly, most web sites that have any kind of articles, such as blogs, also generate RSS feeds. Courts and other government web sites are increasingly distributing new information via RSS feeds. The Ohio Supreme Court, for example, has RSS feeds that provide news updates and opinion summaries. The Court also provides docket updates using RSS feeds. Some law firms are even beginning to add RSS feeds to their web sites to communicate with clients (and potential clients). The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law even has an RSS feed that allows alumni, students (current and prospective), faculty, and staff to stay up-to-date on what’s occurring at the College (see all the feeds at moritzlaw.osu.edu/rss).
RSS feeds are an easy and inexpensive way to help attorneys stay current in a world where information moves at ever increasing speed.
Matthew Steinke is a reference librarian at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law where he manages the Library’s government documents and provides reference services to faculty, staff, and students. He also teaches a section of legal research for first-year students. Prior to joining the Moritz Law Library, Matt worked as an attorney practicing law in Dayton, Ohio, with the firm Altick & Corwin.