When it comes to networked digital signage and self-service kiosks, stored content typically gets the most attention. Modern remote-management suites (like our ClientCenter remote management system) will typically let you configure and schedule everything from advertising reels to interactive applications, and then transfer the necessary files to each player or kiosk in the field. The advantage here is that you can load up large video files and complex applications in advance, allowing your kiosk or digital signage player to cache them locally so they can be played on-demand later on. But what happens if you need to mix in live content from the Internet or your own remote servers? Sure, there are streaming video options for encoding newscasts or live broadcasts in real time for delivery over the Internet, but sometimes video is overkill, and what you really need is a text-based service (perhaps with some still images too). In these cases, web-based delivery makes the most sense, and the current darling of the digital content distribution world is RSS.
What is RSS?
Depending on who you ask, RSS either stands for RDF Site Summary (where RDF is itself an acronym for Resource Description Framework), or Really Simple Syndication, which is the moniker the media has decided to pick up and run with. It's basically an XML format for syndicating content (typically text, but it can be HTML with embedded images, video, sound, etc.). Popular aggregator services like Bloglines and FastBuzz let you assemble RSS feeds into a collection that you can easily monitor from over the web.
Of course, you can also view RSS feeds from your computer (for example, if you're using an RSS-aware browser like FireFox), or in any program capable of displaying XML data (for example, the browser widget in our FireCast OS kiosk and digital signage software). So from a technical perspective, it's pretty easy to assemble a system that will pull an RSS feed from over the web, and either display it full screen, in a portion of a screen, or as part of a kiosk application.
But the real question is, where does the content come from (assuming you're not providing it yourself, of course)? Not all news sites syndicate their content with RSS, and most of those who do will not let you simply redistribute or display their copyrighted content. Fortunately, there are some options available.
There are several sources of syndicated weather (weather.com among them), however the NOAA is testing a free service that can provide RSS feeds for weather forecasts and severe weather alerts. This is a great service, but some of the major weather corporations (The Weather Channel and AccuWeather, I believe), are currently lobbying Congress to make the NOAA take these free (as in, you've paid for them with tax dollars) services offline, since they compete with corporate offerings. If you have a free minute, you might want to email your state representative to let them know that this is a bad idea.
Ok, so one way or another you can get your weather data. But what about live news updates? There are sources for these too, but none are free for business use (at least as far as I can tell). One of the longest-running RSS news feeds comes from All Headline News, which has a number of different services offered on a monthly subscription basis. I did come across this interesting article which suggests that the BBC might make their content (which is already available in RSS streams) available to commercial entities for syndication as well. Free news feeds from the BBC seems almost too good to be true, but I'm going to be following this situation as it develops. Apparently their goal is to have 10% of their total web traffic come from RSS feeds, so perhaps fostering its growth in the commercial sector is in their best interests.
For sports, entertainment, travel and pretty much everything else, there are a variety of subscription-based services available from the AP, Reuters, SportsLine, CNN and ESPN, just to name a few. Whether you decide to go with a subscription from a single vendor, multiple vendors, or alternative/free sources of streaming information, RSS makes it easy, since it ensures that your data will arrive in a standard, accepted format. That way, instead of spending time deciphering a complex information feed, you can focus on presenting the content in the most compelling way possible.