Using a News Aggregator (or using RSS)

This item covers learning about news aggregators as well as setting up a news aggregator.

What is a News Aggregator?

A news aggregator is some software that enables you to receive news items from a wide range of websites. It “pulls” news items from websites that you specify every 3 hours (or whatever period you nominate). “news” items can include any new additions added to a website. For example, I use it to pull latest news items from the BBC website as well as receive notification when learning objects in business and information technology are added to a learning object repository.

Why use a News Aggregator?

How often have you gone to a website and said that you should come back to it to check on the latest information but never do? Wouldn’t it be great if you could be told when the site had changed and what changes had been made.

One solution to this problem is for sites to provide newsletters. Many sites allow you to provide your Email address and then send you their Email newsletters on a regular basis. However, this can lead to a cluttered Email inbox and firewalls can treat the newsletters as SPAM and delete them.

A better solution is to set up a news aggregator to “pull” the latest news items from the websites you nominate.

How does it work?

It works through a technology called RSS (or Rich Site Syndication). It works where people create websites which generate an RSS feed. You can identify websites which generate such feeds by one of the following symbols appearing on the page:

Technically, an RSS feed generates XML (eXtensible Markup Language) code, which is why the XML symbol appears as one of the possible ways of identifying an RSS feed. For a more detailed explanation of the structure of an RSS feed, go to

News Aggregator Example

To get an idea of how a News Aggregator works, go to:

I have over 20 web sites from which I have nominated to receive the latest information. They are grouped into a number of folders.

Click on the + sign to see the list of websites in each folder.

Click on an underlined name to see the most recent items from that website.

In the right hand window, click on any of the underlined titles to see the full article displayed in a separate window.

(Note: once you set up your own news aggregator, the default is that you only see new items received since you last logged on).

As you can see from my list of web sites monitored, many are weblogs (or blogs). Many weblogs generate RSS feeds as a standard part of their operation.

How do I get a News Aggregator?

There are a wide range of news aggregators (or RSS readers as they are sometimes known) available. See for one list of the available software. There are web based services (eg. Bloglines) and also you can download software and install on your computer. I currently use Bloglines.

Why use Bloglines?

I chose Bloglines for several reasons:

  1. I wanted a web based service, as I need to access the news items from several computers and wanted it to keep track of items I had already read.
  2. I work in an organisation which has firewalls and these can cause problems with special software run on the desktop computers (Bloglines only requires an Internet browser).
  3. I found Bloglines very easy to set up and use.
  4. It was free.

I would recommend it to others wanting to set up their own news aggregators.

How do I set up a Bloglines account?

To set up Bloglines to access your chosen websites.

  1. Go to and select Register
  2. Complete the registration screen: Email address, password, time zone.
  3. An activation Email will then be sent to your Email address and once you respond, your Bloglines account will be established.

What is the URL of an RSS feed?

Any website which contains a RSS, RDF or XML icon (see above for examples) provides an RSS feed.

This URL is not the general URL of the website but the URL of the RSS feed. Generally, the URL of the RSS feed will end with “xml”, “rdf” or “rss”.

Example: is the Learning Circuits RSS feed URL is Stephen Downes’s OLDaily rss feed URL

How do I add an RSS feed to your Bloglines account?

To add the RSS feed to your Bloglines account, you need to copy the RSS feed URL into the “Subscribe by entering URL” box on your Bloglines account.

  1. Find the XML, RSS or RDF button on the web page.
  2. Right click on the button and select “Copy Link Location”
  3. Go to your Bloglines account and paste the URL into the “Subscribe by entering URL” box.

How do I find websites which provide RSS feeds?

I found the sites I have included in my news aggregator based on referrals mostly from other people. Feel free to copy any that I have in my bloglines account. Other places to search for sites with RSS feeds are:

Syndic8 ( - Syndic8 is (mainly) a directory of RSS feeds, over 25,000 of them. You can search or browse the directory (

News Is Free ( -News Is Free is an online news aggregator and a directory of RSS feeds, over 5,000 of them. You can search or browse the directory (

Other useful resources Pssss... Have You Heard About RSS? Alan Levine - This article provides an introduction to RSS feeds and how to use them. A primer on RSS. It provides more details then the Levine article, including some of the more technical aspects. List examples of learning object repositories that provide RSS feeds. RSS the next killer application for education. Instructions on how to get a RSS feed to load into an organiser page in Web CT.

 Last Updated: 31 January 2004 by Peter LeCornu