If you’re like most people who use the Internet, chances are you often come across new and interesting sites, but then completely forget to visit them again. Or likely you spend too much time visiting the same sites looking for new information, only to be disappointed. In addition, your e-mail inbox is probably flooded with messages you barely have time to read, including subscriptions to newsletters that tell you about new content available on still more Web sites.And while you’re occupied finding new content, you still want to make sure others can find your organization’s interesting new content without relying on their bookmarks or your e-mail newsletter, which may not make it past their spam filters or get noticed in their crowded inboxes.Wouldn’t it be nice if there were an easy way to have all this information come to you and go to them in a way that was easy to manage, timely, and put the reader in control?The answer is RSS, and not only can it help you manage information you want to find, but it’s also a great way for your nonprofit to ensure that people interested in your mission receive automatic updates from your Web site. What’s more, RSS can help you spread the word through the easiest content syndication model out there.R-S-What?RSS stands for Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication, depending on whom you ask. Either way, it’s a simple way to deliver frequently changing Web content — all the new content from favorite sites, or just summaries.By plugging links into something called an RSS feed reader or aggregator, you can retrieve the newest content offerings from Web sites while saving the time it takes to visit each site. Many RSS feed readers are available, and they all allow you to display content for reading at your leisure. (For more details about RSS, read the Digital Divide Network’s “What’s RSS and Why Should I Care About It?” and Fagan Finder’s All About RSS).RSS: Content Aggregation and So Much MoreSo why should your nonprofit use RSS? Frankly, for the same reasons everyone else should. Here are the top 10 reasons you — and your organization — should use the technology. It’s only just beginning: RSS is still in the relatively early stages. The tools are pretty raw, but it pays for nonprofits to get in early on communication technologies. It will better position you to take advantage of them as they mature and additional uses become available. Ultimately, it’s about making your views and your work part of the conversation.Getting Started With RSS(The source for this section of the article is “A Nonprofit Guide to Getting Started with RSS,” also from ConsultantCommons.org .)Surely, by now you’re convinced of the benefits of RSS. Getting started is easy.First, you’ll need a feed reader. Choose between a Web-based reader, an e-mail client, or a stand-alone application. A Web-based client, such as Bloglines, is a good option if you work on multiple computers, you’re usually connected to the Internet, you don’t want to download any special software, and you want to be able to access your reader on public-access computers. A mail client, such as Newsgator, might be the best choice for you if you live in your e-mail program, you’d like to easily mail information you find, you store a wide variety of information in your mail folders, you primarily use one dedicated computer, and you want to use an application that’s familiar to you. Consider a stand-alone RSS aggregator — such as Feed Demon for Windows, NetNewsWire for Mac OS X, or Straw for Linux — if the thought of more e-mail makes you sweat, you use the same dedicated computer, you prefer using specialized applications, and you don’t want to add any additional plug-ins to your e-mail program (which can make it harder for your technical staff to support your e-mail application).Once you have a feed reader, the next step is to sign up for feeds that interest you. When you’re on a Web site that updates frequently, check to see if it has a feed that you can add to your reader. Feeds are often indicated by a small icon with the acronyms RSS, XML, or RDF. Just add the RSS feed to the list of feeds that your aggregator checks.Sign up for an account at PubSub, Feedster, and Technorati. Use these accounts to watch for any information related to your organization’s URL, name, key partners, key funders, mission, as well as bills and other legislative efforts relevant to your work.Don’t forget to share the information you find. Consider setting up a blog with a service like Blogger, and turn on the RSS option so the information you find can spread even further. E-mail interesting items to people who will appreciate them. Try this every day for six months, and see if you’ve started interesting new conversations, networked with people who can help your mission, driven more traffic to your site, or learned more about relevant issues than you could before.About the Author: RSS makes it easy to read the Web: How many bookmarks do you have in your browser? Does it make you ill to think of clicking through all of them to check for new content? Make RSS do the work for you — subscribe to sites and your reader will collect the new relevant content. My bookmarks no longer scare me. In fact, I rarely use them.RSS makes it easy to find relevant information: Searching the Web can be a chore, and most of us don’t even have the patience to do more than search Google and check the first pages of results. RSS allows you to tap relevant, even mission-critical information by letting you create feeds based on keywords. How this works varies, but there are a variety of tools — PubSub, Technorati, Feedster — that you can use, and many aggregators integrate with them in way that allows you to create searches. Let’s say you work for an organization that is following issues pertaining to same-sex civil unions and marriages. You can set up some keyword searches and then subscribe to those searches. The relevant information comes to you.RSS lets you share the information you get: With RSS, information comes to you in manageable pieces: a NY Times headline with a sentence-long article summary; a blog entry; a teaser for a longer blog entry; the pointer to a newsgroup posting; an e-mail announcement list; events listings. You can push that information out to interested communities — simply send it via e-mail, or put it on your own Web site or blog.RSS helps you participate in conversations relevant to your work: Naturally, if the New York Times or your local paper writes about your organization, you’ll want to be the first to know. But it’s also important to participate in discussions on popular blogs or other online communities. RSS can help you find these conversations, advance your organization’s agenda, and generate attention for your work.RSS makes it easier to control your own subscriptions: Unsubscribing from some e-mail mailing lists and announcements can be a chore. You can’t remember how it is that you elected to receive the information in the first place, and worse, it ends up mixed in with your inbox and distracts you from getting work done. RSS gives you complete control. You can easily segment your feed from your regular e-mail or use an aggregator that bypasses e-mail entirely.RSS allows people to share your content: When you create a newsfeed, you’ve opened the door to content sharing, and others can easily disseminate your good, relevant content.RSS makes it easy for others to lend you a bit of their Web real estate: With RSS, other organizations can display some of your content on their Web sites. This is good. It gets your content out to a variety of audiences, and it can enhance partnerships. The best part? They don’t actually have to talk to you for this to happen. Painless content partnerships — what more could anyone want?It’s easy to avoid being a spammer: Forget opt-in and double opt-in worries. Allowing people to subscribe via RSS puts control into their hands and gets you completely off the spammer hook. Okay, so some e-mail publishers hate that (Bill Pease even asks if e-mail is dead in a TechSoup community thread). It’s hard to track traffic, they say, and it puts control completely in the hands of the subscriber instead of the publisher. I disagree. If you are creating good content, people will subscribe and they will stay subscribed. That means ultimately, the control is really in your hands. Compelling content is the most important thing. And not being a spammer is more than an ethical and legal issue, it means that your message will get to your intended audience instead of a spam filter.RSS makes it easy to contribute to Web-wide conversations: If you’re using RSS to track what people are saying about important issues and what people are saying about you, so are others. By making your content available via RSS, you’re allowing other people to discover you. And they’ll be commenting on your site, linking to it, and subscribing to your RSS feed. Marnie Webb is Vice President of Knowledge Services at CompuMentor and author of the blog ext337.Copyright © 2005 CompuMentor. This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.