Most major and many smaller sites and blogs offer RSS feeds as an option, and signing up for them is free. You can use RSS to keep tabs on your favorite sports team, of course, but the technology also has legitimate business purposes. For example, you can set the RSS feed from a news site or blog to forward new entries pertaining to your industry or to your competitors, to easily stay abreast of developments that might affect your company.
There are also specialized RSS applications aimed squarely at business people. For example, SimpleTracking.com is an online service that sends package-tracking info (DHL, FedEx and USPS, with UPS support pending) to you via RSS, so you don't need to manually check each site. And ScienceLogic, a provider of IT framework solutions, has released an IT management appliance that lets business owners use RSS feeds to track and manage their IT operations. The information can be streamed to a desktop reader, Web browser, or a handheld mobile device, which makes the product an ideal solution for a small business that relies on an off-site person to manage IT operations.
In the past, you needed a special utility (called an RSS reader or RSS aggregator) installed on your PC to retrieve RSS content from sites that offered such content. And this is still a viable option, especially if you subscribe to more than a handful of feeds. But it's not the only option.
Today, leading Web browsers and e-mail clients offer RSS support built-in, and Web portals let you manage and access feeds online from any PC, no download required. Plus, a growing army of mobile devices now supports the RSS standard, so you'll have access to the data you've requested even when you're on the road.
Add RSS to Your Desktop PC
NewsGator Technologies' NewsGator is nearly synonymous with RSS. Its latest software offering, NewsGator FeedDemon for Windows 2.1 ($29.95), is a desktop application for viewing and managing your RSS feeds. It features an easy-to-use interface that lets you specify topics and sites of interest and set up custom news watches based on keywords. You can customize the way feeds are organized and displayed, and even download podcasts and have them automatically show up on a connected audio player.
If you'd rather not commit to a full-blown RSS-aggregation application — say, if you subscribe to only a few feeds — you have several other options. Internet Explorer 7, for example, lets you easily subscribe to feeds from the sites you visit. Simply click on the "subscribe" button in the browser, and the link gets added to IE7's Favorites Center.
Other browsers, too, offer this capability (in fact, IE was late to the RSS party). Mozilla's Firefox 2 automatically detects when a site has an RSS feed available, and lets you add it to your bookmarks. And a raft of Firefox add-ons (such as Sage and RSS Ticker) delivers even more functionality in managing RSS content.
If you live your business life in Outlook, it might be more natural and convenient to add RSS capabilities to your e-mail client. Outlook 2007 added RSS support as a prominent new feature, letting you subscribe to and retrieve RSS feeds directly from within Outlook. If you are among the millions who still use an older version of Outlook, NewsGator has you covered. NewsGator Inbox for Microsoft Outlook ($29.95) lets you track and manage feeds from within Outlook, just like e-mail.