RSS = Really Swift & Simple

1 March 2014

KATHY HOLLOWAY shows you how to keep updated on fresh material on your favourite websites through RSS and how to catch a podcast.

As a web-savvy health professional, you can set forth on a new adventure by becoming a connected online information user.

While push marketing (e.g. online ads and pop-up or pop-under links) can litter the screen when you go surfing the internet you can also take control and create pull channels to deliver you information you actually want.

At a recent professional meeting, I was asked by some internet-savvy nurses how to best use technology to get “just in time” and “just in case” information from pre-selected sources. There are many other technologies out there to enhance your experience like RSS, Atom feed, and podcasting. Read on to develop your understanding of these and further impress your friends and family with your own technological savvy!

RSS or Atom Feeds

RSS stands for Real Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary and was the first product to offer the convenience of collected updates from webpages on demand. Atom feeds were developed in 2005 and provide an alternative but similar service. You will have seen the symbols for these on many websites, particularly journal and blogging sites.

Look for the orange square with white radio waves (the industry standard for RSS or Atom) – you click there to subscribe to that site. The idea is that this syndication tool goes in search of new content relevant to that site constantly and then has it available for you at your convenience. An RSS document, which is called a ‘feed,’ ‘web feed,’ or ‘channel,’ contains either a summary of content from an associated web site or the full text. RSS makes it ‘real simple’ for you to keep up with your favorite web sites (or blogs) in an automated manner that’s easier than checking them manually – check out more info at

But, you might say, I get everything emailed to me already – why use a feed? According to Wikipedia, there are a number of advantages to feeds compared with using an email-based content service:

  • No need to disclose your email address when subscribing to a feed, so you are not increasing exposure to threats associated with email: spam, viruses, phishing, and identity theft.
  • If you want to stop, no need to send an unsubscribe request to stop receiving news. Simply remove the feed from the aggregator.
  • The feed items are automatically sorted in that each feed URL has its own sets of entries (unlike an email box where messages must be sorted by user-defined rules and pattern matching).
  • To access your feeds simply go to the section of your web browser that collects them and scroll down – in Internet Explorer, this is under Favorites; for Firefox, you simply need to download a free plug-in and go.


While it sounds like something out of science fiction, podcasting is simply a form of web broadcasting (the casting part) of audio files, which may then be downloaded into either a computer or an iPod/MP3 player (the pod part). You can use iTunes, Zune, or other free software to download (remembering the limitations of dial-up versus broadband as discussed in columns previously). Also check out

You could even make your own podcasts for others to download. Podcasting has been described as the same as audioblogging (blogs with sound) with the added benefit of RSS. Podcasts are encoded with basic data so that when downloaded, the listener gets more information about the content. If burned to CDs, they can be transported and played in the car – this technology is becoming more popular in continuing education. A quick search found 2,310 nurse podcast sites ranging from ‘A & P’ lectures to personal stories. Continuing education is available at sites like

Scroll down for podcasts, like Self-harm within inpatient psychiatric services, with many available free of charge. Remember with awareness comes choice and happy podcasting!!


Centers for Disease Control (CDC) podcasts

This site, within the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hosts a large number of podcasts on topics as diverse as pandemics, bioterrorism and concussion. The site provides help for those new to podcasting in terms of downloading. Additionally there are clear guidelines for those of you who are inspired to develop your own podcasts. Just like using any other communication channel, the decision to use podcasting technology must be based on formative research including target audience selection, goal setting, marketing plan and messaging strategy development. There are also RSS feeds that you can subscribe to from the site to keep you up-to-date in chronic disease management and flu updates to name but a few topics.

[Site accessed 15 February and last updated 5 February 2014.]


Medscape Nursing RSS Feed

The Medscape Nursing site is often mentioned in this column and subscribing to the RSS feed allows you to easily keep up to date with the content being published here. Registration is free and content is evaluated, created, and presented under the guidance of a WebMD Health Professional Network programme director and a nursing professional advisory board.

The website generally contains the following sections, with feature articles and multimedia selected specifically for nursing:

  • Nurses News: the top news stories of the day (updated daily from Reuters etc.)
  • Journal Articles: Updated weekly
  • Resource Centers: sections on specific conditions or topics of interest
  • Nurses Perspectives: Stories and commentary relevant to nursing
  • Conference Center: reports and highlights from key nursing meetings
  • Blogs: a forum for discussions with your peers.

Also available here are over 50 podcasts on various topics – check it out today.

[Site accessed 15 February and last updated 7 February 2014.]