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What Is RSS?

feed-icon-whatisrss.gifYou've probably seen these three letters all over the internet. But what is RSS? And more importantly, why do you care?

Very simply put, RSS is a technology that allows you to easily receive updates from your favorite websites and blogs. When you subscribe to an RSS feed, you begin tracking changes and new content placed on a website. Whenever that website is updated, that content is sent to you through RSS.

Think of RSS as being like a newspaper subscription. Each day the paperboy brings you a newspaper with the latest news and happenings. Each newspaper has new content – stories, articles, etc – which you receive automatically just for subscribing.

Subscribing to an RSS feed (RSS is a type of feed) gets you receiving updates to a particular website, news site or blog. These updates are forwarded to you automatically. And just like your newspaper, you read whatever interests you in the feed.

Feed or Bookmark?

Before RSS, if you wanted to get updates on changes to a site, you had to bookmark it and return often. Then, you had to hunt and pick for new content. Certainly tedious. And watching more than a couple of sites could have you wasting hours.

But with RSS, no more hunting and pecking through your bookmarks to find updates on websites. With RSS, they’re just sent to you, making it easy to find and read new content. And, with RSS, you can track dozens of websites easily.

What RSS does, ultimately, is reduce the need to bookmark and revisit websites to look for content. Now, when you revisit a site it’s because you know exactly where you want to go and exactly what you want to read.

I know you’re probably wondering what RSS stands for. Well, some say ‘Real Simple Syndication.’ And how it works – let’s not even bother with that one right now. More important to look at how to use it.

How to Use RSS

I mentioned you subscribe to an RSS feed. There are usually two ways to subscribe on most sites. The first is by email – which is easy and obvious to do. And while you’re absolutely welcome to subscribe to my feed by email, I’d rather not fill up your inbox with more email you may not read.

That’s why I recommend the second way to subscribe to RSS – get an RSS Reader.

The easiest, most efficient way to read feeds is to use an RSS Feed Reader.

You can find a huge number of feed readers. Some are web-based such as Google Reader or Bloglines. Some are standalone programs you install on your computer such as NetNewsWire and NewsFire on the Mac and FeedDemon and FeedReader on Windows. And even the web browser you’re already using, such as Internet Explorer 7, or Safari has feed reader capabilities. And for Firefox users, there are number of extensions that turn Firefox into a full-blown feed reader.

Personally, I use both NetNewsWire on my Mac and Google Reader when I’m traveling. Both are excellent, simple-to-use and easy-to-learn feed readers.

Subscribing to an RSS Feed

How you subscribe to and read a feed will depend on what type of feed reader you use. Some readers do offer more options or more elegant interfaces than others. I’d suggest choosing one method, such as your web browser, for instance, and using it for a while. Get used to subscribing to and reading various feeds.

Knowing When an RSS Feed Is Available

There are a few ways you can recognize when an RSS feed is available on a website, a news site or a blog. In most browsers, you’ll find the symbol below to the right of the address line:


If you’re using Safari, you’ll see this:


And anywhere on a website page that you see this feed-icon-small.gif symbol, you can rest assured that the site has an RSS feed.

All that’s left is to subscribe.

Don't want to Use an RSS Reader? Email is an Option

While I highly recommend using a feed reader of some sort I do recognize that it’s not for everyone. Yet that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying regular updates from mine, and others, sites. Many sites also enable you to subscribe to RSS feeds via email.

In my case, just look at the top right of my website page you should fine a place to enter your email address to get regular updates.

Learn Even More About RSS

Below are some of the best posts I’ve found to help you understand more about what RSS is and how to use it.

And perhaps one of the best explanations I’ve seen about RSS is here, in this little video put together by folks over at Common Craft. Definitely worth a watch.

[bliptv Leelefever-RSSInPlainEnglish369]

Hopefully, this answer some of your questions about how to use RSS. If you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to contact me. And please, feel free to subscribe to my feed.