Our last post gave an introduction and illustrated some uses for RSS feeds for academics. In this post we will expand on some of the issues involved, and some suggestions on easily getting RSS feeds for journals.
Feeds are what are known as “push” information sources, liek email, rather “than” pull, such as websites. The content is sent to you, rather than you having to “pull” the content from the information source, such as you would when you check a webpage or on online journal to see if there have been any updates.
When I have tried to explain the advantages of RSS to academics unaware of the concept, their response has been “well, I subscribe to a service where I get an email of a new TOC of a journal when it is updated, why is RSS any better?”
Many online journal reposistiories offer the email option, such as EBSCO. Pubmed does it for free, with a no strings attached free sign on.
However, many journals don’t offer the RSS option. Elsevier don’t, for example. However, the situation is changing in recent times, with more journals allowing RSS accessing to TOC, e.g. Sage, which is obviously the right way to go.
One solution to getting your RSS feeds to the journals you want is the on-line reference manager, Cite-u-like. Citeulike indexes 11421 journals, and creates RSS feeds for each of them. You can get the RSS address to use in your favourite feed collector. The advantage of citeulike is that its freely accessible. The disadvantage is that you don’t get the abstracts in your RSS feeds, and sometimes they don’t have all the information present.
My favoured solution is Zetoc, which is a very comprehensive abstract database which allows access to the British Library’s Electronic Table of Contents. Included in this are around 20,000 current journals and around 16,000 conference proceedings published each year. If you access the subject category section for journals you get a comprehensive listing of journals in your area, with links to their RSS feeds, and the feed gives you access to the abstract. The disadvantage is that Zetoc is only available to those associated with academic institutions in the UK, and doesn’t resolve and link to the full text to the article.
There are probably other indexes that allow access to many RSS feeds for journals, and I would be interested to hear about them in the comments section.
You can also get RSS feeds for citation alerts from some services with institutional subscriptions, such as scopus.
As to the question of why is RSS better than email alerts? If you subscribe to just a few journals, the email solution might be better. But RSS offers advantages over email.
Subscription to an information source is not offered by many websites, but these days RSS is ubiquitous. RSS allows the easy access to the aggregation of many information sources, all updated in a timely fashion. By just getting headlines, you can scroll through many items from mulitple information sources, and ignore those items which aren’t of obvious interest. This makes it possible for some people to subscribe to hundreds of feeds, which would quicly swamp your email inbox. Those articles that interest you can then read immediately or tag and store for later reading.
As well subcribing to TOC of journals, I subscribe to many blogs in my area of Psychology. http://scienceblogs.com/ houses some of them. Increasingly academics are coming online (like us!) and there are specialist blogs on various academic disciplines, which makes for both informative and interesting reading, and fosters participation in your research community.
I see RSS as allowing the creation of something like your own trade or hobby newspaper, where you have control of what articles appear, and those articles can be very specialised. If you want to get news and information on candle making, for example, you got it. Since academia leads to very specialised interests, across international communities, blogging and subscribing to content via RSS is ideally suited to the academic world.