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Bring Mass Customisation news to your desktop with RSS

2004-08-17: has expanded its accessibility to readers by launching a RSS (Real Simple Syndication) feed. With the aid of a news aggregator, a reader can now be informed about new articles as they are published.

Before explaining how to get delivered to your desktop, it is worthwhile to firstly explain RSS, as the concept is not yet widely understood like email and web browsing.

A news aggregator is a program that takes news headlines as RSS feeds from various selected websites and presents them in an easy-to-use list. The user can update their aggregator each time they connect to the internet, and quickly see a list of any new content that has been published on their favourite sites. For the user, it is no longer necessary to visit websites individually, since they can instantly see which sites have new content. An added advantage is that the aggregator allows the user to link directly to a new web page.

There is also an advantage for publishers, in that readers who visit the site regularly can be notified of new content without the necessity to use email. This is of particular significance as many users are adopting a more rigorous attitude to online privacy, which means that they are less willing to subscribe to email newsletters. RSS is a 'pull' technology, so called because the user 'pulls' the content they wish to read from the news aggregator, without having to supply personal details to the publisher. This is in contrast to email, where the publisher 'pushes' the content to a user's inbox. Also, many email users now have filtering systems, designed to stop spam, but these can also stop legitimate subscribed email, preventing a publisher from getting their message to subscribers.

It should be noted that there are a number of different newsfeed formats, for example RSS, RDF and Atom. It is not necessary for the purpose of this article to explain the differences between them, and most of the news aggregators can take feeds from the various formats. If any reader is interested in finding out more about the different formats, there are relevant links at the end of this article. There is a wide variety of RSS news aggregators available. The first type are applications, which are installed on a user's own PC. Many of these are free or shareware. A common screen layout is a three pane arrangement, with the list of subscribed feeds on the left, with the headlines for a selected site in the upper right pane, and a preview of a selected webpage (or a introduction to the content) in the lower-right pane. While doesn't recommend any particular type of aggregator, here are a few examples which readers might like to try:

SharpReader: This is an RSS/Atom Aggregator for Windows, created by Luke Hutteman. It requires the Microsoft .NET Framework to be installed on the users computer. The latest versions of Windows XP and 2003 should have this installed already, but for users with earlier versions of Windows, e.g. Windows 98, the .NET Framework can be downloaded from the Windows website. Sharpreader is available at

Feedreader: Feedreader is available from It follows the three-pane layout described above.

RSSReader: A free application which runs under Windows 98/NT/Me/2000/XP/2003. RSS Reader also requires the .NET Framework to be installed. Displays RSS and Atom feeds. The most recent version,, has had more than 500 changes made. Available from

Active Web Reader: This is a basic two pane reader, showing a list of feeds on the left, and the content list (including the content introduction) for a particular site on the right. There is no preview of a selected web page. Active Web Reader is free, and supports only the RSS format. Available from

There are also a number of online aggregators. These are websites to which the user subscribes, and inputs their chosen newsfeeds on a personal account page. No software installation is required for these websites. Some examples are RocketInfo (, and Bloglines (

It is really a user's own choice whether they want to download software and install it, or subscribe to an online newsfeed aggregator. If someone uses different computers on a frequent basis, it is probably advisable to use an online service.

And so to's news feed. Having chosen your news aggregator of choice, you should create in it a new channel (representing a website's newsfeed), and enter the following address as the newsfeed source:

That's it! Now, whenever you run the update facility on your news aggregator, you will be notified instantly of any new articles that have been published. For the moment, there will be a single news feed for all new items. The various sections of - News, Technology, Features and Concepts may be given individual feeds in the future.

RSS feeds also have potential to represent an alternative method for mass customisers to maintain a dialogue with customers. A separate article will look at this issue in the future.

XML/RSS Technology

For those who may wish to learn about the technology behind RSS, a very good tutorial can be found at:

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