Emerging Web Technologies: RSS Feeds and All About Retargeting Mental Energy and Efficiently Transporting Information

RSS reading embedded in Safari and Firefox (from the New York Times)

Web technologies are all around us. These technologies enable us to access and share information in real time from anywhere in the world. Moreover, newer web technologies spare us the navigational effort we expend accessing a journal (JCI) table of contents or news.

Our challenge is how to efficiently track developments in our field. We must expend considerable effort if we must navigate to each journal or news site to view a table of contents or headlines. RSS feeds free us from expending time remembering a URL and navigating to each site. Web sites that make RSS feeds available display the RSS symbol: . With a program to access an RSS feed, headlines and links are transported to our server and used to generate content boxes shown below. Here is a link from about Nursing that illustrates simple javascript tools for rendering RSS feeds. NOAA offers RSS feeds for weather advisories.

Below are events as reported by Reuters and Nature. These lists are generated dynamically from RSS feeds Each time you refresh this page, you obtain the latest information available from these remote sites. With RSS technology, the cumulative time you would have spent remembering URLs and navigating to sites becomes available for retargeting to thinking, learning, caring for a patient or your research. (See also the Reuters RSS newsfeed). At GMS, RSS feeds are created dynamically by Seminar Announcements and GMS Happenings.

Web Logs ( see also Web logs for educators and for the history visit Rebecca Blood's essay) offer another opportunity for creating a published dialog about issues of importance here at MUSC. We will be exploring all these tools as ways to strengthen interactions between students, faculty and researchers both here at MUSC and around the world.

What about RSS (Rich Site Summary)

RSS is an small text file that contains information about headlines or main ideas. A URL that points to an RSS feed is often identified by . The URL identifies the source of the RSS file - in this case, the Reuters world news. It is an abstraction of a newspaper or a journal etc. Shown here are RSS driven content boxes from Nature and Reuters

Nature Reviews Neuroscience
  • Neural plasticity in the ageing brain
  • Astrocyte–endothelial interactions at the blood–brain barrier
  • Cognitive neuroscience of emotional memory
  • Oligodendrocyte wars
  • Neuroscience nanotechnology: progress, opportunities and challenges
  • The sensory and motor roles of auditory hair cells
  • Gene therapy: can neural stem cells deliver?
  • From the editors
  • A barrier to diffusion
  • Undoing epigenetics
  • Mapping eye development
  • A neuroprotective role for α-synuclein
  • In Brief
  • Mirror image
  • The turning point
  • Fear not
  • Closing the gap
  • Targeting neural correlates of addiction
  • Sniffing out neural processing
  • NO typical messenger
  • Reuters: Top News
  • Iraq voters seen approving constitution
  • US, Britain, Iran trade charges over attacks
  • Romania culls fowl as Europe braces for bird flu
  • Three settlers, Islamic militant killed in W.Bank
  • Cheney aide a key focus in CIA leak probe-lawyers
  • Child rescue a gleam of joy in Kashmir quake misery
  • China must prepare for shocks: Snow
  • Five dead in Wisconsin school band bus crash
  • Sun shines in US Northeast but flood alert remains
  • Human rights groups concerned over Saddam trial
  • There are web sites that will display the items in an RSS feed. Try it.

    Why is it useful? Because you can place the display driven by the RSS file on your browser and every time you refresh the display, you see the current contents or the current composition of the site being abstracted. Take the the MUSC Bluesheet, the list of daily seminars and conferences. With the bluesheet, we generate an RSS file which as you see contains the title of each event and a link to the web page describing that event. As an example, this is a simple display of the RSS feed from the bluesheet. Without much imagination, you can see how a group of content boxes, driven by RSS feeds from journals, MUSC resources etc, provide a very efficient way for you to remain up to day without chasing URLs all over the Internet.

    Combining RSS feeds and content boxes that provide search access to frequently used resources make what many refer to as a portal (myMUSC). Here, you can log in as visitor and password visitor and configure your desktop to display the content boxes that best suit your needs.

    Building an RSS Driven Content Box

    For an overview of building and rendering RSS resources visit IBM's DeveloperWorks. Recently Dave Taylor wrote a simple step-by-step outline of accessing and displaying RSS feeds.

    In 1999 Brian Dadin saw the future and built the myMUSC aggregator. As my professor and a believer in see one, do one, teach one he wrote a short Perl script to teach me the ins and outs of displaying from any Internet resource as a small table. Another resource is Using RSS News Feeds (rss2html.pl script)". Click here to grab rss2html.pl

    The table the web page is placed using the include command. For example to include the Reuters news and the Nature Signal Gateway RSS feeds within an HTML page add the following table (which organizes the content boxes):

    <table width="100% border="1">
    <td valign="top">
    <!--#include virtual="/cgi-bin/RSS/rss_box.cgi?rdf=reuters_science.rdf"-->
    <td valign="top">
    <!--#include virtual="/cgi-bin/RSS/rss_box.cgi?nature_signal.rdf"-->
    Below is reuters_science.rss (which is located in the cgi-bin directory), the Perl code for the Reuters Science News ( reuters_science.rss):