Sunday, February 29, 2004

Leap Day, When Mike Learns
         about RSS Readers

Well, he learns a little bit, anyway. As I understand it (and if you want to correct me, hit the email button on the right):

If you go to a page such as, or random other pages, you'll see an orange button labeled "XML".

At the bottom of every Slashdot page, there is a link labeled "RSS".

Click one of these links, and most likely your browser will do something strange. Mozilla Firefox prints the message "This XML file does not appear to have any style information associated with it. The document tree is shown below." and then dumps the XML source.

So what are these pages, and how do you read them? RSS (sometimes) stands for "Really Simple Syndication". As far as I can tell, it's a collection of bookmarks for a website. For example, Slashdot's RSS feed is a list of the current articles appearing on the Slashdot home page. The advantage of the RSS feed, rather than your own bookmarks, is that the page is dynamic, that is, it gives you the current Slashdot home page, not the way it looked the last time you went there and bookmarked every article. The articles don't have to come from the same page, they can be distributed throughout cyberspace.

There's more information on this at and The later link has a bunch of RSS feeds for Yahoo's news service.

OK, that's well and good, but how do you read these things? You need something called an RSS aggregator. Many are listed in that last link.

But, since RSS is essentially a collection of (dynamic) bookmarks to web pages, why not use a web browser to read them? The Mozilla browsers don't support RSS directly, but you access feeds using an extension. (There are extensions for Mozilla itself. Use Google to find them. In Firefox, see "Tools=>Options=> Extensions."

There are several RSS extensions for Firefox. I chose the RSS Reader Panel. You install this in the usual manner, which means you're trusting someone to send you good code. Fortunately, this is in your own file space, so you can't trample on things belonging to root or another user. (Under Linux. In Windows, this isn't true, of course.) The RSS Reader Panel (RSSRP) install itself, and you restart your browser.

Next, create a bookmark folder. It doesn't matter where. I called mine, duh, "RSS Feeds". Under "Tools=>Options=>Extensions" click on "RSS Reader Panel", then on the "Options" button at the bottom. There is a menu which has a scroll button with all of your bookmarks. Highlight the RSS Feed bookmark and click "OK".

Add any XML or RSS feeds you'd like into this folder in the usual way.

Now go to "View=>Sidebar" and click on "RSS Reader Panel", or just hit "Alt-R" on the keyboard. On the left-hand side of the screen, all of your RSS bookmarks will appear in the top half of the sidebar. Click on the one you want. In the bottom half of the sidebar will be the titles currently available from that page. Click on the one you want and it will appear in the main part of the browser window on the right. Get rid of the sidebar by clicking the "X" in the upper right-hand corner.

I don't know if I'll use this all that much or not. Time will tell, I guess.