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What is RSS?

You've probably noticed the little orange chicklets. They say RSS or XML or FEED. They are starting to show up on websites everywhere. I recently added a few to this website. They look like this:

I am using them because I like reading sites that use them. I figure if I like them, you might like them too, once you understand what they are. So - this is a introduction to the world of RSS.

RSS is a way to monitor your favorite websites all at once

When the web became popular, some sites found ways where you could subscribe to their sites. With a subscription, you would be notified anytime that the site was updated. I am not sure that this ever caught on.

RSS is an industry-standard way for the website owner to create a machine-readable record every time that they publish a new article at their website. RSS is very popular for bloggers. In fact, I am using my blog as a method for creating the RSS feed.

On the face of it, the RSS page is ugly and looks really non-useful. If you happened to click on someone's RSS chicklet, you will see something pretty boring.

It looks non-useful because you aren't supposed to click on the chicklet. You are supposed to drag the chicklet to a Feed Reader program.

What you need to know:
  • You need a new piece of software that can read the machine-readable RSS info from your favorite websites. There are a bunch of them. Some Free. Some Cheap. Get one and install it on your PC.
  • Tell the Feed reader about your favorite sites that already publish in XML or RSS. Later, you can download my OPML file and import it to your feed reader to get some great Excel sites that publish in XML.
  • As you start browsing and discover a new site, check to see if they have an XML chicklet on the site. If they do, drag the chicklet and drop it on your Feedreader software. This will subscribe you to the site.
  • Then - once a week, open the Feedreader and click "Update all Feeds". The feed reader will go look for new machine-readable XML data and basically give you a list of headlines of what is new at your favorite sites. This is the really powerful thing. Without visiting 10 sites, I can see what articles are new in the last week. I can stay completely up to date with 10 sites in 15 minutes by just visiting my Feedreader software. This is powerful!. If someone wrote something that I care about, I click on the headline to get the complete story.
Which software to get?
There are many of them out there. Feedreader. NewsGator. Google Reader. Some are free. Some are free for a while and then $25. All of them support exporting and importing your favorite feeds as an OPML file.

Personally, I am use BlogBridge. It is free. I use it because it is written by Pito Salas, the guy who invented the technology that became the Pivot Table. I figure that if Pito is smart enough to event pivot tables, he clearly can handle feedreader software. Now - BlogBridge requires you to download the Java engine in order to work. It is one extra hurdle. Download the software for free from http://www.blogbridge.com/.

The Big Overview
Feedreader software varies. In general, you can set up a Guide as a category. I have a category for Excel sites. Within the category, you can subscribe to individual Feeds from your favorite websites. The third panel shows headlines from the selected website.

Sites to Start With
All of the feedreader programs seem to import OPML files. I have built a collection of 10 cool sites that have XML/RSS feeds. I have exported my Excel guide into Excel.OPML. Download this and import it into your feedreader to get started. This has feeds from John Walkenbach, the Microsoft feeds about Excel 12. Also feeds from Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston, the fathers of the computer spreadsheet.

RSS Feeds at MrExcel
The Tip of the Day blog at MrExcel was the first to get a feed:

I update the blog (and the feed) whenever I add a new article to the article archive at MrExcel. Here is a cool piece of code that will show you the last five articles posted in that blog:
Mr Excel Tip of the Day

You might notice that my feeds usually come from Feedburner. This is generally OK for a topic that is updated daily. Feedburner tends to have a 30 minute lag. The second feed at MrExcel, though is updated every minute. The following chicklet is for the Feedburner version of the MrExcel MessageBoard feed.

And this graphic shows the last five posts according to Feedburner.
Recent Board Activity
However, both of the above are on a 30-minute delay. If you want to really see the last five topics, you could subscribe to the original feed. This is updated every minute:

The third feed at MrExcel is the Learn Excel from MrExcel Video Podcast. You would typically want to drag this feed to iTunes or something else capable of dealing with a MP4 video stream.

The fourth feed at MrExcel is the recent changes to the Excel Wiki.
This review was originally published on October 23, 2005. The permanent URL for this page is http://www.mrexcel.com/tip108.shtml.

MrExcel.com Consulting can be hired to implement this concept, or many other cool applications, with your data.

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