10 Things You Had No Idea RSS Could Do

Matthew Guay
Matthew Guay / May 14, 2014

The Internet is full of data, from the latest stock prices and weather forecasts to reports of your local public transit delays and your customers’ latest feedback about your business. Finding the specific info you need is what’s still difficult. The data’s there if you look for it, but no one has time to dig through it all just to find that one thing you need.

With over 300 apps that already work with Zapier, it’s easy to automate sending data from one business app to another. For everything else, there’s RSS.

Most commonly associated with the now-discontinued Google Reader, RSS is an XML format that lets websites publish data automatically. It’s a great way to subscribe to your favorite blogs in apps like Feedly, or automatically share your own blog posts on Facebook with Zapier, but it can also be the best way to stay up-to-date on critical info you need to track.

This is the case at Circa, a news startup that uses an RSS feed provided by Appfigures to keep current on reviews of their app. They post the new reviews into their team instant messaging app, Slack:

Circa Appfigures RSS

"Bringing in all of our App Store and Google Play reviews in real time helps our team understand what our readers think of our app," says Matt Galligan, the company's CEO and co-founder. "It's far more efficient to read our app reviews this way than having to remember to go to each store often and parsing through the reviews."

So whether you're tracking user reviews for your app, traffic reports for your morning commute or notifications for new episodes on Netflix, RSS can deliver a wide range of new items to you. Choosing how you digest them is up to you, too, because with RSS and Zapier there are hundreds of possibilities.

Automate with RSS

The following are some of the best RSS feed sources and Zaps, as discovered by Zapier team members and users.

1. Weather Alerts

You shouldn’t have to check an app to see if it’s raining, or turn on the TV to see if there’s a severe weather warning. The Weather Channel has RSS feeds for every location they cover, and with the RSS filters we’ll look at below, you can have Zapier notify you based on specific weather events in your area. Then, the National Weather Service has feeds of its severe weather alerts, and your local weather station likely has its own weather RSS feeds.

2. Traffic Updates

The other obvious thing you need to know before leaving your office is traffic. It’ll take a bit more work to find your local traffic reports in RSS feeds, but for many areas, they’re out there. In the UK, you’ll find a number of RSS feeds for highway traffic reports, and many cities around the world, such as New York and Houston, have similar feeds from governments and local news.

3. Public Transit Notices

If you’re not driving, you’ll want to know if the train’s delayed. That’s when public transit feeds are your friend. Chicago has a number of RSS feeds with alerts for every part of its public transit system, and you’ll likely find similar feeds for your own city if you look around.

4. Finance Figures

Don’t watch the stock ticker on MSNBC all day. Unless you’re a broker, you likely only need to keep track of a few stocks and funds, and perhaps major market movements, and there’s RSS feeds for that. The NYSE and Nasdaq both have a number of RSS feeds available, and you’ll find similar feeds from most other exchanges. Or, you can make stock-specific feeds on Google Finance to keep up with just the ones important to you. Another option is to keep tabs on new filings posted on the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission site.

5. Arts and Entertainment Releases

Bored at work? There are RSS feeds for Netflix’s latest releases so you can plan what you’ll watch tonight and last.fm feeds (via a fan) of popular songs and more to give you something new to listen to right now. There’s also feeds of movie trailers from iTunes, book bestseller lists from the New York Times and Amazon, and more.

6. New Brand Mentions

Want to know when someone mentions your company, or when something’s published about your industry? Google Alerts is the app you’ve always needed. It can notify you—yes, via RSS—anytime Google notices something new about anything you’re interested in. While Google’s searching the web, it’ll be looking out for you, too. How nice is that?

You can also use Zapier filters (discussed below) to hook up a specific site RSS and filter down results only to mentions of your company name or product. This is how web and mobile design and development firm Thoughtbot monitors questions regarding their open source repositories. The company pipes a filtered Stack Overflow RSS feed into Campfire in order to make sure questions are responded to a timely manner, said Dan Croak, Thoughtbot’s chief marketing officer.

7. Product Stats

Want to keep track of what people are saying about your app? In addition to the aforementioned Appfigures RSS, you can also build custom RSS feeds from iTunes to monitor top apps, songs, and more, and use filters to only alert you if your content hits the list. If you’re an author, you could use RankTracer or NovelRank’s feeds in a similar way to monitor how your book’s selling, or if you’re an eBay seller, you can monitor your account with their RSS feeds.

"Regardless of the sentiment of the review, it's nice that our team can all stay on top of what people think," said Galligan. "It's especially important if someone identifies a bug or has a negative experience that we can somehow impact."

8. App Data and Status

You can already keep an eye on your site with Zapier’s Pingdom integration, but if you’re using other services to keep your site running, you’ll want to know if they go down. Heroku and other services—check out the Zapier API Status Board—have feeds with their status reports that you can turn into instant notifications. This use of RSS has proven valuable to WordPress hosting service Flywheel, which sends new app status updates to HipChat.

"Keeping track of the status of all (our services) can be challenging," said Dusty Davidson, the company's CEO. "Since we basically spend 18 hours a day in HipChat in some form or another, it becomes a great place to alert our team of issues that may be occurring with our partners."

For less mission critical reasons, if your other internal apps don’t already integrate with Zapier, chances are they expose some data via RSS that you can use. To find out, visit their help center and search for "RSS".

9. News Updates

Perhaps the most obvious use is for news—it's after all the main reason most people think RSS exists. Your favorite newspaper or news station likely has RSS feeds with the latest headlines, but if you want broad news from a variety of sources, Breaking News' topic-specific sections all include RSS feeds about the specific news you need to stay on top of. Or, if you want to keep up with social news, sites like Hacker News, Design News and Inbound.org have their own RSS feeds.

Or, maybe it's simply staying on top of your own company blog, a use of RSS that Buffer has found valuable. Using Zapier, they set up an RSS to HipChat automation for each author, that way when a blog post is published, it shares the post and the name of the author in the instant messaging app.

"We use Zapier to set up automatic notifications in HipChat of what’s going on elsewhere, making it the central 'office' of Buffer," former Buffer content crafter Belle Beth Cooper wrote on the company blog.

10. Social Media Posts

Aside from news, the next most obvious way to use RSS is to automatically publish your new blog posts and site updates to your social network accounts. Grab your own site’s RSS and put it to work for you, or check how Sitepoint used Zapier—hooking up their RSS feed to Buffer—to increase site traffic from social media by 30 percent.

Find Obscure RSS Feeds

Instant RSS Search

Depending on your work and location, though, those RSS feeds might not be what you need. You need to find the feeds that have the info you need, and there’s sources for that too. The Free Dictionary has an extensive directory of RSS feeds you can search through, with comics, economics news, and everything in-between. There’s also Labnol.org’s Instant RSS Search, which uses custom Google searches to help you discover RSS feeds about any topic you’d like.

Your best bet, though, is to find feeds from sites you already know have the info you need. Most browsers used to show an indicator in the address bar when a site contained an RSS feed. Today, though, browsers all-but ignore RSS, so you’ll have to resort to other tools to find feeds on sites you find. The simplest way to find a feed is via a link on the page; use your browser’s search tool (CMD+F on a Mac or Ctrl+F on a PC) and search for feed or RSS on the page. If that finds a link, just right-click and copy it, and you’re all set.

Otherwise, you’ll need to resort to other tools. If you use a feed reader like Feedly and have their respective browser add-on or bookmarklet installed, you can just use them to see if there are feeds on the site, then copy the feed URL it discovers instead of subscribing to it. Or, you can use the RSS Auto-Detect bookmarklet to find feeds on sites, right-click the View original feed liank on the resulting page, and copy the feed URL from there.

If all else fails, you can always find feeds manually by looking at the source for the site. Open your browser’s source view or developers, and search for “rss+xml”. That should uncover a line like the following; if so, copy the link after the href text, as that’s the feed you’re looking for.

<link rel="alternate" type="application/rss+xml" href="http://site.com/feed">

Create Your Own RSS Feed

No matter how hard you try to find them, some sites just don’t publish their updates in RSS feeds. Some sites, like YouTube and Twitter, have turned off their public RSS feeds, and others simply have never had their updates in a feed. The data’s there, but you’ve got to make it work for you on your own.

Zapier

One route to create an RSS feed that's not currently available is to configure one using Zapier, setting the source of the data as the trigger app ("when this happens") and the RSS as the action app ("do this").

Create an RSS feed

Using Zapier in this way opens up hundreds of RSS possibilities.

Yahoo Pipes

Yahoo Pipes

Yahoo Pipes is another option. It’s an automation tool that lets you make feeds and more from any public online content you’d like. Unsurprisingly, its most popular pipe recipe is for making an RSS feed from any webpage. You can specify the section of the website to monitor for changes, filter the results to keep it from giving you unimportant results, combine it with updates from other sites and feeds if you’d like, then turn the results into an RSS feed ready for you to use in Zapier or any other app. It’s a powerful tool that’s your best friend if you’re trying to turn any site online into something you can use with Zapier.

This is how Meldium, a cloud app management platform, takes advantage of RSS. Combining multiple feeds together in Yahoo Pipes and using Zapier to post new items in the feed to their team instant messaging app, HipChat, they're able to better stay on top of industry news. In turn, this makes it easier to increase their engagement with customers and members of the media.

“It has helped us identify interesting folks in the press, create talking points, and add useful commentary where appropriate,” said Boris Jabes, the company's co-founder.

Unlock the Hidden Power of RSS

You have the unique RSS feeds you need to stay informed and more, and now it’s time to learn how to unlock their hidden power. That’s where Zapier comes in. Anytime something new is published on the RSS feed, Zapier can turn that info into action. You might even be already using RSS in Zapier to automatically share your blog posts on your social networks, but you can do far more than that.

The RSS feeds we’ve already looked at give you up-to-date info on important stuff you need to know. Zapier can help you out by making sure you see those updates wherever you’d like. Just select the RSS trigger, then pick any app you want as the action. There are hundreds of things you could have Zapier do with your newfound info. It could post news updates from your RSS feed to your team chat app, send you a text message or even call you when something happens, append an Evernote note each time something’s posted, and so much more. If you need inspiration, check the RSS Zapbook page to see the most popular apps people are already using with RSS and Zapier.

The Mighty Strength of Filters

Of course, RSS-powered notifications in your apps can easily get as overwhelming if your feeds have too many updates. You might just want to be notified about some of the things they’re writing about. That’s what Zapier’s RSS conditional filters are for. After adding your RSS feed and any info needed for its paired action app, you can add filters to your RSS feed to get just the info you want. The simplest option typically is to filter the RSS title for specific words you’re looking for.

Filters

Say you want severe weather alerts just about incidents that’ll directly affect you, or want to know when a certain blog mentions your company. Just use the Title → (Text) Contains filter and enter the appropriate term. Now, Zapier will only notify you with the updates that are most important to you. If you’re still getting too many notifications, you can always come back and add more specific filters later—or switch to less restrictive filters if the updates you need aren’t coming through. And, if it just so happens that you’d rather still get your RSS notifications in your feed reader, you can still use Zapier to filter out the items you don’t want to read and make your own RSS superfeed with just the content you want in a new RSS feed.

All that’s left now is to repeat these steps with all of your important RSS feeds, using enough filters to keep from being overwhelmed with all of the information. With a bit of tweaking, you’ll get the automated notifications system you’ve always wanted with RSS, Zapier, and your other apps working together to make sure you know what you need to know, when you need to know it.

Using RSS in a unique way with Zapier? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

Danny Schreiber, marketing lead at Zapier, edited and contributed to this post.

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