RSS: Your Easy Button for the Internet
by Tammy Metzger, J.D., M.A. and Carin Tabag
Imagine having an entire research team that works around the clock, scouring the internet to compile and organize a personalized newspaper -- just for you -- every day. Relevant information is immediately organized into a familiar, easily searchable format and there are no ads. Does that sound too good to be true? “Wait, there’s more!” It is quick and easy to set up and it’s free. Welcome to the world of RSS (Really Simple Syndication).
RSS works and looks like your email inbox, so there is a short learning curve. You control exactly what is sent to you, so you never receive spam and unsubscribing is simple. You can choose from thousands of useful, interesting feeds that will help you with your law practice, keeping you current and saving you time. It will only take you 10 minutes to get started. I have included an extensive list of recommended legal feeds, organized by practice area, to make this as easy as possible for you. First, let me tell you a little more about RSS, why Bill Gates says email and web sites are the old way of communicating and that RSS is an invaluable tool for the new, far superior, way of communicating, with blogs and newscasts.
RSS Looks and Works Like Email
RSS is a web format that sends content directly to you -- as soon as it is created. It is very similar to e-mail. When you are sent an e-mail, it arrives in your inbox, waiting for you to read it. With RSS, website creators put their content in the RSS format (called a “feed,” “web feed” or “channel”) and it is automatically sent out directly to anyone who subscribes to it. Your RSS reader (also called an “aggregator” or “feed reader”) is your inbox for RSS information and it picks up information for you 24 hours a day, storing it for you to read when you need it. Google Reader is the easiest reader to set up and use.
RSS Saves You Time
RSS is vastly more efficient than browsing the internet manually. How much time have you wasted searching for obscure articles, checking for nonexistent updates, dodging popup ads and trying to locate an article you read a month or two ago online? That history button on your browser is not very helpful when you visit hundreds of sites a month. With RSS, you can quickly find those articles (and unread feeds) by searching through your RSS library with specific keywords. This does not take up space on your hard drive because Google’s servers store this information online, which means you can access it from anywhere, including your cell phone. If you want to store your information on your own hard drive, download Google Gears so you can use the reader offline.
Readers make organizing your feeds easy. You can create subject folders and flag (or star) key feeds, just as you do with email. Deleting feeds is also painless. The reader’s “subscription trends” table will display the least used feeds and all you have to do is click on the trash can icon to delete that feed. They will also recommend new feeds that may interest you, based on your viewing habits, so you do not have to search for more yourself. You can also use your reader to publicly share particularly useful articles with your invited Google “friends,” without having to email everyone.
Your Own Personalized, Constantly Updated Library
I subscribe to over 60 feeds, so I receive hundreds of articles, podcasts (audio) and video clips a day, automatically, without searching the web and manually checking for updates. I know of people who scan through thousands of headlines a day with “List View,” reading only those articles that interest them. If this sounds like an email nightmare, it’s not. You don’t waste your time with spam and you do not have to reply to any messages. In fact, you don’t have to read it at all!
I do not actually read the majority of my feeds because I only need daily updates from a few of the sites. I primarily use my reader as a library, where I store legal, technical and news feeds into folders that I can search later. Reader searches return relevant information faster than an internet search because I’ve already narrowed the scope down to my 60 source feeds. Google Reader’s search function is one of its best features. (Note: most websites do not yet offer RSS, so a reader search would make a good starting point, quickly returning relevant information, but is not comprehensive. Furthermore, you would only search the text in the feed, not necessarily the entire article). Let’s get started setting up the easiest reader, Google Reader.
Subscribing with the RSS Icon
This is the fun part of RSS: subscribing to feeds from your favorite websites. There are many ways to subscribe to a feed, but the easiest way is to click on the RSS icon , and let Google reader subscribe to the feed for you. Feed links are also displayed as (and other colors besides orange and red), , and .
To practice this way of subscribing we’ll use a general legal news site, http://www.cnn.com/LAW . I’ve set this link to open in a new window when you click on it. (You can also right click on a link “Open in New Window.”) You can toggle between the CNN window, this one and your reader by simultaneously pressing the “Alt” and “Tab” keys on your keyboard.
In the middle of the CNN page you’ll see a box entitled “All About… “ with a list of topics and red RSS icons ( ). Find a topic that interests you and click on the associated button. You’ll probably open a new page with the name of the feed and a list of the latest articles. (If you are directed to a page with html code, read the next section “Subscribing Manually to Google Reader.”)
Scan through the list of articles to make sure you want to subscribe to this feed. If you decide to try it out, your reader will pick them up for you once you subscribe. At the top of the screen you’ll see the words "Subscribe to this feed using" followed by a drop down box. If Google isn’t already selected using the drop down box, select “Google.” Click the “Subscribe Now” button and click the blue button “Add to Google Reader.” You’ve just subscribed to your first feed and it will immediately appear in your reader.
Subscribing Manually to Google Reader
If you click on the icon and see a page filled with html code you can easily enter the feed manually into your Google Reader. We’ll practice this with another popular legal news site, http://www.law.com. Links to feeds are often located on the right side of the screen, near the top. This is where you will see on law.com’s website. Click on it to open a page filled with descriptions and links to the different feeds their website offers. You’ll notice that some of their feeds, such as IP Law and Employment Law have subscription fees. You can see abstracts in your reader but you will not be able to view the entire article until you sign up for their 30-day trial. For now, pick one that is free, such as Legal Blog Watch or Newswire, by right-clicking on and selecting “Copy Link Location” if you have Mozilla Firefox or Netscape or “Copy Shortcut” if you have Internet Explorer.
Go back to Google Reader and on the left sidebar find the Add subscription link and click on it. In the blank box, right click and select paste (which should paste the link location you copied) and click “Add.” Voila! You’ve added another feed.
If you do not want these feeds, click the link entitled “Manage subscriptions >>” underneath your list of subscriptions at the bottom of the left sidebar. Locate the subscription you want to delete and click the trash can to its right. Click “Ok.” Then click on “<< Back to Google Reader” in the orange menu bar to return to your home page.