An Ultimate Guide on RSS Feed for Idiots

Posted by Mayank on July 17, 2011 in Guides

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A lot of subscribers from my other blogs asked me this – What is RSS Feed? Do I really need it ? Having been associated with Blogosphere (Blogging world) for long, I thought everyone knows what a RSS Feed is. So, I took the same question to a few fellow readers and also to a few bloggers. I was surprised to find that only a handful of people really understood what it is. Hope this article will have everything you need.

What is RSS Feed ?

What happens when you like a blog? You bookmark it and visit it every now and then to check for updates.

What happens when you amass hundreds of blogs you like? You bookmark them, visit them every now and then to check for updates. ** If you’re reading this post, you most likely identify with this situation.

Some of the blogs post several articles in a day while some of the blogs post an article after several days. Due to this, you start to match your visits with the frequency of blog postings and end up having many of the blogs fall off your radar because it is near impossible to do that! So, what is the solution? Subscribe to the blogs of your interest and stop visiting them.

Feeds are generally known as RSS (‘Really Simple Syndication’) which are just web pages, designed to be read by computers rather than people. News feeds allow you to see when websites have added new content. You can get the latest headlines and video in one place, as soon as it’s published, without having to visit the websites you have taken the feed from.

I can see you asking the question : if it is really so simple, why does it feel so complex? The reason is that RSS is one of those messy computer standards like Wi-Fi. Several different versions exist, some work for everything; others won’t handle things like mobile, podcasts etc.

How Does RSS Work ?

To start with, let’s understand in layman’s terms how RSS Feed works :

  1. A website or a blog create a RSS Feed (RSS feed can be created automatically or manually).
  2. The RSS Feed that is created is in-fact a XML file, which resides on an Internet server. At any given moment, there will be thousands of RS feeds sitting on internet servers, waiting for a RSS Reader to consume them.
  3. The RSS Feed Reader read the RSS Feed file and displays it. Note that only new items from the RSS Feed are displayed.

Why Subscribe to RSS Feeds

RSS feed removes the need to visit websites, automate web surfing by creating a virtual custom newspaper, and help you stay current in your areas of expertise or interest. A few words to make the case for RSS feeds:

  • Keep web overload away!
  • Create a custom newspaper on your desktop.
  • Targeted and timely information – for example, get lunch specials delivered from nearby restaurants

How to Subscribe to RSS Feeds

rss feed iconsA variety of RSS feed icons have been developed. Fortunately, most of the RSS feed icons are still orange in color! Usual RSS feed icons are the orange signal icon or have RSS, XML, or FEED written on them. Fortunately, Microsoft and Mozilla agreed on a standard RSS feed icon (see top left). In order to subscribe to a RSS feed, just click on one of the icons or provide the URL of the website in your RSS Reader and it will take the feed address of the website.

Select a RSS Reader

feed readersTo subscribe and read RSS feeds you need a RSS feed reader. RSS feed readers are also called News Aggregators, Feed Readers, Feed Aggregators or News Readers. Each RSS feed reader has its own method for subscribing to feeds, hence, you need to select one which suits your needs and you find yourself comfortable with. Popular ones are shown here. There are more than 2000 RSS Readers out there, so, which one should you chose? Chose one which is right for you. Just ensure that the following 5 critical features are present :

1. Clean Interface : Uncluttered and clean interface is the basic requirement when it comes to a reader, which potentially will replace your newspaper.

2. Sync Ability : It is highly likely that you will use multiple computers and different versions (desktop, browser) of the reader. Sync ability becomes a must in such cases.

3. Command and Control : To avoid information overload, your reader should be able to provide you means to filter by keywords or tags; multiple sort options;support for headlines, extracts or full items; and the ability to put a given subscription on hold.

4. Hold Ability : RSS readers are great for delivering the latest, but you might like to hold on to an item after you’ve read it.

Let’s have a look at all the type of RSS readers :

Web Based Feed Readers :

You need a web based feed reader if you use multiple computers and prefer to work on a web based system. A few of popular ones are :

  • Bloglines – one of the most popular, finely crafted.
  • Google Reader – Needless to say anything when it is powered by Google!
  • iGoogle – Formerly known as Google Personalized Home
  • Pageflakes – Another personalized homepage provider. [Update: Was available only till Jan 2012]
  • My Yahoo! – Still the most widely used custom homepage on the Web.

Desktop Based Feed Readers :

Desktop based RSS feed readers that are downloaded and installed on the desktop. You will need it if you access your feeds from one computer and you like to download your RSS feeds to read later. A few popular ones are :

Mobile RSS Readers :

RSS Readers for cell phones.

  • MobileRSS – Reader for iPhones.
  • Bloglines Mobile – The popular web-based reader also offers a browser-based mobile version to access your feeds without downloading anything.
  • Google Reader Mobile – If you use Google Reader, you can access a version designed for mobile phones.

 

To conclude, don’t be wary of experimenting with readers, try them out and settle with the one which you’re most comfortable with. I would suggest try the free ones before you buy any premium RSS Reader. Premium RSS Readers no doubt are better than free ones, but you might not need one! Start using the RSS reader and you’ll also figure out how to use RSS feeds.

 

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