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PubMed RSS Feeds: It’s as Easy as One, Two, Three!

By Josephine Tan
Education and Information Consultant, Clinical Programs
Library and Center for Knowledge Management
University of California, San Francisco

If you have visited PubMed since mid-October, you can’t miss the orange-trimmed news flash on the homepage announcing that PubMed can deliver RSS feeds to your desktop, a capability that quietly debuted in June 2005. By now, many of us have heard the term RSS, which stands for Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary. Some of you may already subscribe to multiple RSS feeds, or some of you may be like me, just beginning to discover the joys of RSSing.

What is RSS?

RSS begins with a “feed”, a generated URL ending in .xml or .rdf. It allows you to access the most updated news and information on your desktop browser. When you see the following symbols RSS or XML, normally orange and occasionally in blue, on a website, you have hit a goldmine. The power of the PubMed RSS feed is that you can save a search and have it automatically updated to your desktop browser. “But doesn’t My NCBI already send me email updates of my saved searches?” you must be asking yourself. The answer is yes, but PubMed’s RSS capability offers a wealth of possibilities that go beyond My NCBI alerts.

What do I need to do to get RSS feeds on my desktop?

You will need three things:

  1. The RSS or XML link on a website of interest
  2. An RSS feed (the special generated URL)
  3. An RSS reader (also called a news aggregator, feed reader, or news reader)

Do I need to pay for a RSS reader?

Luckily, the answer is no. There are readers for purchase with specialized features, but there are many free readers to choose from. There are three different types of readers:

See the CNET review and comparison of popular RSS feed readers. As a RSS newbie, I prefer the RSS readers Bloglines and Firefox.

What can PubMed RSS feeds do for me?

Instead of waiting for search updates from My NCBI to arrive in your email, you can now check on the latest updates to your PubMed searches at any time by going to one location, your RSS reader, to view all updates. RSS feeds are updated hourly. Your reader will automatically display the most recent updates since the last time you viewed the feed.

How do I set up a PubMed RSS feed?

NLM published easy to follow instructions in the NLM Technical Bulletin on how to set up PubMed RSS feeds. I recommend that you log into or have your RSS reader open before you start a search, for convenience sake.

  • Run a PubMed search.
  • Under the Send to menu, select RSS Feed.
  • The next screen will display your search strategy and allow you to select the maximum number of items that you would like to view, ranging from 15 to 100. You can also give your search a name.
  • Click the Create Feed button.
  • Click the XML button. This opens a new window that displays a frightfully cryptic screen full of XML programming language. All that you have to be concerned with is the URL. Simply copy and paste the URL into your RSS reader. When using Bloglines, in the My Feeds tab, select the Add link, paste the URL into the Feed URL box and click on Subscribe.

It’s as easy as that.

How do I check for updates in my RSS reader?

If you are using Bloglines, the names of your saved RSS feeds appear on the left menu of the My Feeds tab. Selecting a PubMed feed link allows you to see the latest results, each with a citation, abstract, any full text access, and a Related Articles link. In Bloglines, you can select to view a narrower or broader span of results, ranging from hourly up to all items found in your search since you set it up. When you click on the article title, you will be taken directly into the record in the PubMed interface. You can also email an article or post it to a blog.

Could it get any easier?

Yes, actually. A Firefox Live Bookmark is the answer. When you browse the Internet with Firefox, a Firefox Live Bookmark icon appears at the bottom right-hand corner of the page if there is a RSS feed available for that page.

  • Run a PubMed search, send to RSS Feed, and then click on Create Feed. You will see the Firefox Live Bookmark icon appear at the bottom-right of the Firefox window.
  • Click on the Firefox Live Bookmark icon to display a dialog box with the URL for the RSS feed.
  • Click on the URL to select it. An Add Bookmark window will open.
  • Give your search a name, and click on OK.

Now when you look in your Bookmarks, you can immediately check on the latest items added to your search.

How can libraries use RSS feeds?

PubMed RSS feeds open an avenue for libraries to innovate new ways of collecting and distributing information:

  • Create a table of contents feed for your favorite journals:
  • 1. Run a journal title search on the PubMed Journals database.
    2. Click on Links to run the title search in PubMed.
    3. Set the RSS feed limit to 50 items.
    4. Live bookmark the feed in Firefox, or save the search to an RSS feed reader.

  • Set up a PubMed RSS feed that monitors the publications of a research institution or faculty member
  • Set up a blog running RSS feeds that track the progress of a scientific topic, select scientists, laboratories, or institutions

The possibilities for using RSS feeds to monitor the research literature are only beginning to unfold.

Editor’s Note: Because RSS feeds are generated when records are added to PubMed — before LinkOut icons are added — it is not possible to add LinkOut icons to your RSS feeds. If you have tips and tricks to share about PubMed RSS feeds, please send to Julie Kwan, Latitudes editor. And — when you get your RSS reader, be sure to sign up for the Latitudes feed — just click on the orange button on our home page!

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