RSS, which stands for Really Simple Syndication, has long-suffered from a perception of not actually being all that simple for end-users. The technology, which has been adopted by virtually every big media company and blog alike, allows users to read all of their favorite websites in one location, which is usually referred to as an RSS reader.
While this concept has existed for over a decade – think My Yahoo and other 90s-era portals – today’s RSS readers like Google Reader and Bloglines offer far greater flexibility that, when used properly, can create a powerful business intelligence tool that will save you time and give you a leg up on your competitors.
Once you’ve selected an RSS reader to use (Google Reader is my personal choice), here are some of the different types of feeds you should consider subscribing to for your business:
Monitor Competitors – Do your competitors maintain blogs or post updates to Twitter? If they do, chances are you can subscribe to them via RSS. Most Web browsers will auto-detect if their blog has an RSS feed and let you click on the orange RSS icon to subscribe in your reader of choice, while Twitter has a dedicated link for RSS feeds under the pictures of users that a person is following.
Track Industry News – There are likely several sites specific to your industry that you track at least weekly, if not daily or hourly. Instead of visiting their website and potentially missing key news items, subscribe to their feeds in your RSS reader. Not only will you save time by getting all of this news in one place, but you’ll get it as it happens.
Aggregate the Aggregators – While you should subscribe to key feeds within your industry, one shortcut is to subscribe to the feeds of websites that already pluck the best content for you. Digg, the popular social news site, lets you subscribe to search results, so for example, you could subscribe to only top stories about your company, your competitors, or your industry. Meanwhile, if you’re not so sure about this whole RSS thing, you can try Alltop, which has built hundreds of Web-based aggregators that collect news from multiple sources, on everything from woodworking to accounting.
Keyword Alerts – Another “lazy” way to use RSS is to let Google News mine the Web for you for relevant stories and feed updates into your reader. Similar to Digg’s search and subscribe options, Google News will create an RSS feed for any search term you enter. So, if you’re in the accounting business, you could subscribe to the search term “PCAOB” to get updates whenever one of the thousands of publishers that Google News tracks posts a story about the accounting organization.
Keep Tabs On Your Investments – If you manage your own investments, it’s key to keep abreast of what’s going on with them. Both Google and Yahoo Finance let you subscribe to feeds based on stock symbols. So, if you look up a quote – say Amgen – next to the recent news headlines on each of these finance portals you’ll see the RSS icon, which lets you subscribe to news in your feed reader. This will let you essentially get news in real-time and act on it accordingly.
Be mindful that as you subscribe to more and more feeds, the amount of information flowing into your reader can become overwhelming. In my experience, subscribing to keywords alerts from sites like Digg or Google News should be used sparingly, and only for very specific terms like a specific company or organization.
Fortunately, if you find yourself not getting value out of a feed, you can simply unsubscribe, and you’ll likely find yourself continuously tweaking your subscriptions to get the most value out of your RSS reader. In any event, if you stick with it, RSS will absolutely save you time and make you more knowledgeable about what’s going on in your industry.