RSS - What Is and How To

RSS Feed Icon

Despite the many softwares that are available today to read RSS content, it seems that very few people - even the truly internet-savvy folks - know what RSS is, much less use it. Never fear, true believers - I’m here to help.

What does RSS mean? Amongst other meanings, it’s commonly defined as Really Simple Syndication. You might see different versions of RSS - 1.0, 2.0, Atom - but they all do the same job.

What does it do? RSS subscriptions (called “feeds”) bring new content to you. Rather than the traditional approach to websites where you have to go to the site to view new content, RSS allows you to bring content from several sources all into one centralized location, thus saving time and energy. RSS feeds are automatically updated whenever a website has new content, saving you the trouble of going to the site to find new content yourself. Like a magazine subscription, RSS brings the content to you - all you have to do is wait for it.

Who utilizes RSS? Practically every website that makes frequent updates utilizes RSS. This includes, but is certainly not limited to, Yahoo! News; CNN; Topix; IndyMedia; and practically all of your favorite blogs (including Deanish!).

So RSS is kinda like automatically-updated bookmarks… does RSS replace bookmarks? Yes and no. Some websites, such as those which are not frequently updated and especially older sites, don’t offer RSS. For those sites, bookmarking is a great way to store that page for later use. On the other hand, most newer websites utilize RSS so it only makes sense to utilize their RSS feed. Think about it this way - do you want to follow your news, or do you want your news to follow you? If your answer is the latter, then RSS is for you.

How can I use RSS feeds/who can use them? Anyone can take advantage of the powers of RSS. If you’re a Firefox user, look to the end of your address bar. See that little orange icon? That’s RSS, baby. That symbol lets you know that you can subscribe to that site’s RSS feed. Clicking on the symbol will add the site to your Live Bookmarks, which is an RSS aggregator built in to Firefox. Even if you’re not a Firefox user, you can still take advantage of RSS; read on.

The term “RSS aggregator” (aka “RSS reader”) simply refers to anything that can read RSS content. If an RSS feed is like a magazine subscription, then an aggregator is like the mailman - they’re the ones bringin’ it to ya. There are lots of RSS aggregators out there, both downloadable and online. There are so many, in fact, that determining which software to use can be a burden. If you use an internet connection that is not always on then I would recommend a downloadable RSS reader, which you can find for free at Snapfiles. If you have an always-on internet connection, or if you use multiple computers, then I strongly recommend an online aggregator instead.

My favorite aggregator is Netvibes. It’s easy to use web-interface allows me to access it both at home and at work, so I can keep up on the stuff that’s important to me all the live-long day. I’ll now show you how to set up a Netvibes account and start adding RSS feeds. At any point during this tutorial, click on a picture to enlarge it.

The first thing you’ll want to do is go to Netvibes.com. Notice how simple and pretty everything is. And guess what? The content on this page is totally rearrangeable. That’s right - you can click-and-drag these feed boxes to your heart’s content, allowing you to arrange them in a way that makes sense to you. You can also close feed boxes at any time.

Netvibes1

In the upper-right corner, you’ll see “Sign in” - click on that and let’s set up an account. On the next page, click the [Sign up now!] button. After filling out the easy registration form, click [Submit] and then click “Back to my page”. You’ll now notice that your email address appears right above the title, indicating you’re logged in. Say, that title sucks. “Type your page title here”? Good idea! Since I’m creating this account for my wife, and to keep things simple, I’m calling this page “Christina’s Super Wonderful World of RSS Goodness”. Yep - short and sweet. ;)

So we’ve got the account set up… we have a cool title… what else… OH YEAH! We need content! What better content to use than - you guessed it - Deanish! >:) Over in the side column of Deanish you should see a section called “Subscribe” and then a link for Posts. Right click on it and select either “Copy Shortcut” in Internet Exploiter, or “Copy Link Location” in Firefox.

Netvibes2

Now go back to Netvibes and click “Add content” in the upper-left corner. Click “Add my feed” and then paste the URL of my feed into the box. Click [Add] and presto! The Deanish feed shows up with my latest entries.

Netvibes3

It’s that easy. Any website that utilizes RSS will make itself known by showing some variation of “RSS”, “XML”, “Atom”, “Feed”, or “Subscribe”. These links are usually at the very top, very bottom, or sidebar of most RSS-enabled sites. You can generally spot feeds by looking for this icon:
RSS feed icon

I don’t use Gmail and I don’t need the Netvibes sidebar open any longer, so I’ll close both of those by simply clicking on their respective “X”s.

Netvibes4

Go ahead and experiment with the different functions that Netvibes offers. To read an article, simply click on the article’s title. Newer articles show up on top. Locate and add some of the RSS feeds from these websites for more practice:

Some websites, such as Deanish, have feeds for Comments too. Look for RSS on your favorite websites. Enjoi. :)

2 Comments on “RSS - What Is and How To”

  1. I prefer www.pageflakes.com for my news feed aggregation because it also allows me to invite my friends and colleagues to use that site jointly. Quite handy…

    Regards
    Mike

  2. Indeed, Pageflakes is also awesome. It was quite a bit slower than Netvibes though, and not as pretty. Netvibes may not allow joint pages, but they do allow you to share pages. Check it out:

    Add to netvibes

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    Hi. I'm Dean. Welcome to Deanish. You may have seen me frequent such sites as 4cr, Dtoid, finetune, Y! Answers, and other such entities on the interwebs. Here, you can read more about me; check out my pictures; and/or browse Deanish by tags.
     
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