Saturday, January 15, 2011

Use RSS Feeds for Painless Research

 Tools To Make Information Manageable

The RSS Logo
As the sheer amount of information exponentially grows at blazing speeds any tools that might aid us in sifting through search results is really helpful, this is especially the case with research.  One tool that you have probably heard about is RSS.  It's ok if you have never heard of it or maybe you have heard about it, but have no idea about what it is.  We were not born with RSS knowledge, so my goal here is to give you a basic introduction and hopefully enough information to get up and running.  Warning: it is really easy.

Using RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is a great way to conduct research.  I think that RSS is largely ignored by many in academia simply because they do not know how to use it.  I am going to attempt to explain how it is useful and how you can use it to make research easy.

One Practical Example of Applying RSS Feeds

Imagine for a moment that you collect old tractors and let's say that you live in a small town where there were other collectors of tractors.  Lets go even further to say that even though you watched craigslist like a hawk, every time you called on an old tractor, it was already sold.  There must be a way to automatically monitor and be alerted when collectible tractors go up for sale on craigslist.

You can't watch craigslist all day long, but by using RSS feeds and a RSS reader like Google Reader you could grab ahold of that particular query in craigslist. An example search could be "vintage tractor",  "John Deere tractor", or "vintage Farmall Tractor".  By subscribing to that particular search (using RSS) you could have every craigslist add (that matched your search terms ex. "John Deere") automatically delivered to you much like you receive email.

Using RSS for Research

The example above can also be applied to research quite easily.  Many academic databases even have RSS or RSS-like functions (click here for a list) that will allow you to subscribe and receive alerts when new articles or resources are added.  While RSS feeds are mostly used to follow blogs or other web content that is constantly being updated, it is also highly useful to employ for research. 

Maybe you are writing a paper on a recent or current issue and want to be notified of every article that is published on the topic.  It would be impossible to consistently monitor so many websites and databases manually.  By simply clicking on the RSS Icon on a particular search results page, copying the URL of the feed, and then pasting that feed URL into your RSS Reader, you will then be able to receive every new article that is posted under those search terms.  Note* If you are getting too many articles or not enough, you probably need to adjust your search terms. 

What You Will Need to Utilize RSS Feeds
  1. Internet Access (this could be via a desktop, laptop, or a mobile/handheld device).
  2. A RSS reader, commonly these are available with any free web based email accounts (I recommend using Google).  All you need to do is get a Gmail account and then look for the "Reader" link, then start adding RSS feeds.

How to Use RSS feeds and Craigslist Video Tutorial

*Information contained within these pages do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of Schreiner University.

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