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RSS, email, & table of contents alerts: Intro: What is RSS?

What are RSS and email alerts?

Why should I use RSS feeds and email alerts?

RSS feeds and email alerts can help you find out about new literature in your field, such as:

  • table of contents from new issues of your favorite journal
  • new articles on your specific research topic
  • new books in your field in the MIT Libraries
  • new patents in specific technology areas of interest to you
  • news in science, technology, business, health, etc. from Google, New York Times, BBC, etc.

RSS feeds publish frequently updated web content in a standardized XML format which can be subscribed to using a variety of programs called feed readers or aggregators.

A comparison of RSS feeds and email alerts is below.

RSS feeds vs. email alerts

Aspect RSS Feeds Email Alerts

Need to log-in or register with content provider?

Subscribing to feeds is (usually) anonymous. You must set up an account for each, so there are multiple logins to deal with and some lack of privacy.

Is it segregated or integrated with your other content?

Segregates your news so it doesn't get buried as you deal with more urgent emails. Integrates your news with your email so there is only one interface to check.

How easy is it to manage?

Items are automatically deleted or marked as read; much easier to manage if you fall behind in your reading. You can choose to save items for later. Every news item that comes in has to be manually deleted, filed, or filtered in some way.

What's the interface like?

Different readers allow different layouts and usually have customizable preferences. Similar to RSS feeds.

How available is it?

Common for table of contents alerts, but only some databases have RSS feeds for saved searches. Common.

Choose an RSS reader

How do I get an RSS reader/aggregator?

Many web-based RSS readers/aggregators are available (free or paid) as well as client-based software and mobile apps (freeware and commercial).  Many readers will sync your feeds and favorites across computers and mobile devices.

Popular readers:

Put RSS feeds right into your browser

  • Firefox: live bookmarks are part of your regular bookmarks
  • Internet Explorer: feeds are incorporated into your favorites

Find RSS feeds

  1. Look for an orange button on a web site that looks something like this: example RSS button
  2. In Firefox, when a feed is available a button should appear next to the URL in the location bar.
  3. Search Google - ex: search "nature RSS"
  4. Many readers offer a feature to help you discover feeds relevant to your interests.

Get feeds via email

There are numerous services available that will convert RSS feeds to email, here are a few to get you started:

Be sure to check the terms of service and privacy policies of any web service!

Get email via feeds

It's a little trickier to get email as RSS feeds.  Try searching Google for "convert email to rss" to browse some options.