Newsletter - sign up here
Search Webster
Webster's pieces from The Oldie
Webster's Webwatch

The New Internet
June 2006

There is growing enthusiasm amongst technophiles (I suppose I’m one of them) for what has become known as Web 2.0, which is shorthand for the next generation of web based products and gadgets. The good news for the rest of us is that Web 2.0 is all based on providing online services that make the internet easier to operate and more useful. Not before time, in my view.

A good example is the growth of a technology called RSS. Nobody really knows what RSS stands for; some say Really Simple Syndication, others Rich Site Summary, but the true origin is lost somewhere in cyberspace. What RSS does is allow you to gather, on one page, the headlines from lots of sites that you’ve chosen from all over the internet, without the bother of ploughing your way through them all individually. Not all websites work with RSS, but it is growing rapidly in popularity.

I’ve set up a page you can all look at and play with to get the idea. Go to (an irritatingly hip name, but it works very well), click on "Sign in" (top right) and log in by entering my email address and the password webster. This should open a page I have created, headed "Webster’s example RSS page". You will see that it displays various boxes that are fed by other sites, such as the BBC news page, The Times sports news, Cricinfo cricket scores, the weather, and a few others. These are updated all the time, so you will always see the latest headlines from all of them at a glance.

If you click on any of the headlines, you will be taken to the full story on whichever website it is. There is also a "to do" list that can be amended all the time (do add something polite), and a list of favourite bookmarks to other sites. You might care to add something there, too, for other readers to benefit. If you like the look of it, I suggest that you try setting up one of your own.

Sign out of mine (click on "sign out" in the top right hand corner) and then click on "sign in" and follow the instructions under "New User". All they want is an email address and a password. Once you are in, change the title – click on "Type your page title here" at the top and put something personal.

Now you have to set it up with the sort of content that you want. First, get rid of the all the rather technical stuff that they pre-load; if you hover over a box, a little cross will appear in the top right – click on that and the box is gone. Now click on "Add Content" (top left) then on "Feed Directory", and pick sites that you like the look of. Lots of them are American (although netvibes is actually a French firm) but there is plenty of British stuff too.

Once you have clicked, the box with the headlines will appear, and if it’s what you want you click on "Add to my page". Hover over the heading at the top of the box and you can drag it around, or click on "Edit" to change what it looks like.

This may sound a bit daunting, but it is simple enough once you get the hang of it. News related sites are the main providers of these "feeds" at the moment, but more and more sites are offering RSS. Just look for the little RSS symbol on your favourite website. If they have one, follow the instructions to add the link to your netvibes page, and regard yourself as being right up to the minute from now on.

Online Libraries

In December, I wrote about free online access to reference books through your local library website. At that time, by no means all libraries were included, but The Oxford University Press has just signed a two year agreement with 95% of the English library authorities to make a large part of their catalogue available. This includes The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Grove Music Online and about 140 other reference books.

I do urge you to get to know this astonishing free resource; ask at your library if you are having trouble connecting to it.

I'm always pleased to hear from readers.


Webster’s Webwatch Excellent online guide for world travellers. Spend a year in Provence by staying at home. The daily paintings of Julian Merrow-Smith to take you on a virtual journey. The Gospel of Judas that caused a bit of a fuss a while ago. Is it genuine? An excellent and scholarly site. The Wimbledon Tennis championships. An excellent site full of news and results. Reviews of hotels, resorts, places, travel companies, all contributed by actual paying customers. You can add you own experiences.