News apps will show you the latest news but if you really want to dig into a topic and follow content like cases and legislative updates, as well as blogs and news sites, you should give RSS a look. Listen while we chat about some of the tools and RSS feeds a busy lawyer might want to try.
View Transcript Speaker Key: PB: Phil Brown, DW: David Whelan
PB: Hi, it’s Phil Brown. I’m here with David Whelan, and today we are going to talk about RSS feeds.
DW: RSS feeds are one of those typically geeky things that you hear about, and you might wonder what those letters stand for.
PB: They stand for a couple of different things.
DW: They sure do. I think the most common one is Really Simple Syndication. So there is your R, S, and S.
PB: They also seem to stand for Rich Site Summary, which is probably from the early days of RSS when it first came out.
DW: I think that’s probably true. What RSS does is it takes
the content from a website and chops it into small chunks that are
machine readable, which means that you can then point your phone or
your computer at the RSS feed and read the RSS feed using software. The
software then chops it up into the headline, author, date, and other
parts of the news item.
PB: And all of that information when you finally set up the
link or the app to get that RSS feed is embedded. That means that when
you get the article returned to you it has all of that information
DW: Right, and that’s the benefit. RSS is a format just
like Microsoft Word has Word documents. RSS is a file format that is
standardized, so once you get the software that allows you to read the
RSS feed you can go to any website that has an RSS feed, or create your
own RSS feeds, put them into your reader, and be able to read them and
see all these elements.
PB: They seem to be getting more traction now, but they have been around since about 1999.
DW: That’s right. They were, sort of, an expert researchers
tool for many, many years and seemed to be going through some death
throes a couple of years ago when people were announcing, as they often
do with technology, that RSS is dead. But it has had a bit of
resurgence, and you might not even realize that you are using it if you
are using one of the non-RSS newsreaders that just do news
aggregation, but they might still be relying on RSS feeds.
PB: And just to be clear on the differentiation,
newsreaders, which we may talk about in another podcast, are for
aggregating news articles and new news articles, while RSS feeds
aggregate any new content from blogs, video sites, from almost
DW: That’s right, and RSS feeds are much more customized.
The news aggregators tend to take a generic approach and rely on
publishers, but with RSS you can actually go to the site and choose
what you want to follow. Two of the sites that are of particular
interest to Ontario lawyers would be the RSS feeds that you can get
from CanLII, which will update every time there’s a new case from
Ontario posted into the database, and those same types of RSS feed that
you can get straight from the Ontario courts. So if you go to the
Ontario courts websites, you can follow news that they are posting - if
there are new practice directions, you’ll get an RSS update with those
directions, but also the cases and opinions that they post to their own
PB: So let’s talk about the simple versatility of it. Once
you get a link or create a link to an RSS feed it will send you new
content only since the last time you’ve checked the feed. Is that
DW: That’s right, and that’s the nice thing. It really
saves you the time from having to go and visit all those websites -
where you might have opened up the tab and gone to look at a site to see
if there’s anything new, gone to another site to see if there’s
anything new, on to the next one and so on. With RSS you go into your
RSS reader and all of the RSS feeds that you’ve set up will
automatically update. So if there’s new content it will appear and if
there isn’t any news, particularly if there’s not any news on the
content you’re looking for, it won’t appear in your RSS feed.
PB: And how would we know if a particular site like CanLII, for instance, had an RSS feed available?
DW: There are two ways, and unfortunately some of the
really rich sites hide their RSS feeds so you can’t find them, but in
general when you go to a site that has RSS on it you’ll see a little
orange icon appear somewhere on your web browser, usually after the
domain name. Where it says news.com for example, there might be an
orange symbol, or somewhere else on your browser, and it looks like a
little white waterfall on an orange background. That will tell you that
there’s an RSS feed there. But if it’s not there, and you’ll find this
particularly with newspaper organizations, I don’t know why, but that
seems to be the one that it’s hardest to find, scroll down to the
bottom where they have all the links to the different bits and pieces
of their website. You’ll often find a link to RSS, and if you click
that, then you can see all the different RSS feeds you have.
PB: Now is it as easy to set up as clicking on that little orange icon, or is there more to it?
DW: Well there’s a little bit more to it. The first thing
you want to do if you’re going to follow RSS is to have an RSS reader.
You need to select something like Feedly or Old Reader, which are
web-based RSS readers that you view through your web browser, or you
can download software to your Macintosh or Windows computer and read
the RSS feeds locally, or have something on your device.
PB: So it’s almost as simple as clicking on the link. The link just has to have somewhere to go if you do click on it.
DW: Exactly. Once you’ve got that reader and you click on
that link, it should ask where you want the link sent to, you’ll tell
it you want it to go into your reader, and then you’re golden.
PB: So something like Feedly which you mentioned, which I think is F E E D L Y…
PB: … you would be able to find on the Internet a number of
browsers like Internet Explorer, Chrome and things like that, that
usually have an extension or an add-on that you can add to the browser
so that it will aggregate the content for you automatically once you
start your account.
DW: Right. The great thing about RSS particularly right now
as we’re coming to the end of 2013 is that Google Reader was one of
the most popular RSS readers that was out there and had really sucked a
lot of the air out of the RSS world. Google decided it didn’t want to
support it any longer, so it killed it off this year, and that has meant
that, if you go to Google and do a Google search for RSS reader, you
will see great lists of really, really good RSS readers that have
survived the Google reader debacle and also developed further. So there
are some really good starting points if you’re trying to figure out
which RSS reader you want to use.
PB: And there were a number of articles I recall seeing
just before the demise of the Google reader on how to transfer over
your RSS feeds from the Google reader to whatever new reader you might
DW: Yes, the benefit of RSS is that it’s meant to be
machine readable, and it’s standardized, so you can export it from one
reader and import it into another. And if you have a list of feeds from
somewhere else, or if you have a buddy who has been using RSS for a
while, you can ask him or her to download their file, what’s called an
OPML file, and then you could import it and use all the same things
that they’re already following.
DW: So you can share RSS links and send them back and
forth. It’s really a good timesaver if it saves you from scanning 20,
50, or 100 sites a day to see if there’s any new content when there
might not be any.
PB: And RSS is truly flexible, so if you’ve got really
unusual things that you want to follow, it’s not just a newspaper, and
it’s not just a blog. There are things like Google Alerts where you can
set up at google.com/alert so that it will send you an RSS feed when
something new has popped up in the Google index that matches your key
words. There are all sorts of RSS feed options that are out there, so
once you get started following basic content you can actually get
pretty creative with what you follow.
PB: So a handy research tool for lawyers to have in their
pocket and whether they use it or not is certainly something to keep
them up to date whenever they go and check it.
DW: Absolutely. I couldn’t live without it.
PB: Perfect. Thanks very much, David.
DW: Thanks, Phil.