Help      |      Chebucto Home      |      News      |      Contact Us     

56. Information in a hurry:
Using RSS newsfeeds

By Andrew D. Wright

The Internet's greatest strength, and also its greatest weakness, is that there is just so much of it. Finding the information or news you want and then keeping track of new developments or updates takes too long.

Suppose you could keep up with news and updates from a dozen different web sites in less than a minute without having to visit each one? With RSS news feeds, that is exactly what you can do.

RSS, or Really Simple Syndication, is a way for a website to tell you what is new, when it was new, how to get to more information and sometimes a brief description. For instance, a news site like CBC will have an RSS news feed with the latest headlines. This is handy, but it gets better. These feeds are also divided by province, subject and sub-heading so you can select just the news you want. These days most news websites and blogs have RSS feeds.

RSS news feeds are written in XML, Extensible Markup Language. These files usually have the extension .xml or .rss. To make proper use of them, you'll need a program which can read the XML and present you with the information. I'm going to show you two ways you can access RSS news feeds using Open Source (free) software.

If you use Mozilla Firefox as your web browser, then you may have already noticed that when you are looking at some websites an orange icon appears in the lower right of the Firefox window. This icon looks like a little dot with sound waves coming from it and if you put your mouse on it, a popup window says: "Add Live Bookmark for this page's feed". Clicking on it will show you the name of the RSS feed with the option to subscribe to it.

If you do, this Live Bookmark is added to your bookmarks and will show you the current headlines from the RSS news feed. Clicking on a headline will take you to a webpage with more information. They're called Live Bookmarks because they are automatically updated every time you start Firefox. While easy to set up, Live Bookmarks only show you the headlines from the RSS feed.

RSSOwl is a free Open Source RSS feed reader that runs on Java so it works with Windows, Macintosh and Linux. It comes with a tutorial and already subscribed to a variety of news feeds. You can add or remove feeds easily. To view a new RSS feed not already in your Favorites, simply type in (or copy and paste) the address of the feed into the Address bar of RSSOwl and hit Enter.

To subscribe to a feed, simply drag and drop the icon for the feed into your RSSOwl Favorites. RSSOwl shows the entire feed - country of origin, description, etc. and can be set to open a number of feeds automatically when the program starts. You can check the top stories from a dozen different sources in under a minute.

Mozilla Firefox:


Some RSS news feeds:

Chebucto Community Net:

CBC News:

Government of Canada RSS Feeds:

The Mousepad runs every two weeks. It's a service of Chebucto Community Net, a community-owned Internet provider. If you have a question about computing, email If we use your question in a column, we'll send you a free mousepad.


The Mousepad Index


Originally published 20 March 2005


Our community is online here!


A feature of the Halifax Herald