News feeds, RSS and how to use them

11 years ago in Articles, How do I? by Brent | 8 Comments

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For some of you, this article might be old hat, so I invite you to scroll to the bottom and become a “co-author” with me. Add your tips and tricks via the comments for all of those who visit this post and might not know some (or all) of the tips we all collectively possess and take for granted in our quivers of knowledge.

Here we go…

I would like to take this opportunity to introduce you to one of the most important, yet often overlooked functions powering this beast we call the Internet. It’s called the news feed or the RSS feed. If you are not familiar with RSS then this article is a great place to start. I’ll do my best to explain it in a way that makes sense and is easy to understand. However, if I get confusing, scroll down to the bottom and read some of the comments by fellow iBAMers. We’re all working on this article together in hopes we can help make your life a lot simpler.

What is RSS?

It’s ironic to me that this Internet term has so much confusion about it, because one of the accepted meanings is “Really Simple Syndication”. One would think that something with the word simple in it’s name would have a simple explanation as to what it’s abbreviation means. But in fact, it doesn’t because it, like a lot of Internet terms we commonly use today, has a somewhat hazy beginning. The best I could tell, this term has two accepted meanings. The one mentioned above (my personal favorite), and another, “Rich Site Summary”. Either way, RSS is like a news and information dispenser that when hooked up to a website, will “feed” the information specified for it to feed into a commonly accepted format for programs to pick up and present to your readers. This is what I would call “today’s version of the morning paper“. Imagine that you walk out to your front door to get the paper and sitting outside on the sidewalk is the entire staff of the newspaper, waiting to instantly type up and present to you only the articles you want to read in a nice, easy to browse format. That’s RSS – What you want to read, when you want to read it.

How do I read an RSS feed?

The best way to read a feed is to use a piece of software called a feed reader (I know, brilliant!). There are many different forms of feed readers for you to choose from. There is software that stands alone and is installed on your computer and there are web-based readers. Both have their advantages, but it really comes down to preference, and that’s about it. Personally, I bounce back and forth between Google Reader and NetNewsWire (NNW) for Mac. I’ll have one day where I love the mobility of Google’s web based solution and there are others where I prefer the offline read of NNW (meaning that I don’t have to be connected to the net to read the articles). So if you were to ask me today which I prefer, I would say both.

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Most news readers are organized the same. They have some sort of folder organization view on the side and a concise view of that specific chosen feed in the main content area. Most have the news organized like your email software would organize your emails and others just put up the titles of the articles. Whatever you prefer, most are customizable to show you all sorts of views. Basically, they are showing you current news items pulled from all over into a readable format for you to browse through.

Subscriptions in RSS

As stated above in the newspaper analogy, the news you choose to read is brought to you because you subscribed to a particular feed. So this means that you have to choose to have your software check the feeds you subscribe to and see if there’s any new news. Subscription is usually done by either clicking on a website’s feed icon feed_12×12.gif, or actually typing in the URL for the feed into your reader. Most browsers today support some sort of feed reading or subscription facilitation in some form or another. Which means that you will have to specify what your feed reader application of choice is inside the browser preferences screens. Once you subscribe to a feed, you will receive the latest information from that website every time you access your reader.

What’s this do for me?

I don’t know about you, but it’s nearly impossible to keep up to date on what’s going on all over the net. You could have visited 20 sites yesterday and most of them have updated today with new information that you would love to read if you could just remember all 20 of them, right? Well, RSS saves you a ton of time and energy by pulling all the news together in one place for you to view. Some may have updated, others will have not. Your reader will pull it all together and have it ready on your doorstep when you are ready to read. You don’t even need to visit the sites unless you see something that you want to investigate further, then all you have to do is click the article title and you are whisked off to it’s source. RSS provides a great way to boil down information and present it to you quickly and in a format that you can appreciate.

So, what are you waiting for?

There are RSS feeds out there all over the place and most of the time you can know right away of there’s a feed to subscribe to by just looking in your browser’s address bar.

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See that little radio looking thing on the right, all you have to do is click it and you’re subscribing to the feed that is available behind the page you are currently viewing. If you don’t see the RSS icon in the address bar, most likely there’s not a feed to subscribe to. So be on the look out for that little icon either in the address bar or on the page somewhere. Now, go get yourself a feed reader (there’s pleanty of free ones out there), and start subscribing. In no time, you will wonder how you ever lived without your feeds.

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