Feed me: An introduction to RSS

Feed Aggregator. Feed Reader. RSS Reader. News Reader. It’s all the same thing.

You’ve probably heard the term before but there is a decent chance you don’t know what it is or how to use them. If you regularly read news and/or blogs on the internet and aren’t using an RSS Reader, you don’t know what you’re missing. Read on.

RSS Feeds

Basically, it’s a list of the newest items published in a website. I won’t get into the details on what an RSS feed looks like or what the different formats are. Most people don’t (need to) care anymore. Just use an RSS Reader (more on this later). Any website that provides a feed you can subscribe to with a reader.

How do I know if a website provides an RSS Feed?

Lots and lots of websites provide an RSS Feed and the number is growing quickly. The easiest way to tell if a website provides a feed is by looking at the address bar (where you type the URL such as http://www.google.com or http://Marcos.Kirsch.mx) in your browser of choice (Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox). Look for a little icon with the concentric semicircles (trying to look like a radio broadcast) or the little icon that simply says RSS. If such icon is present, then the website provides an RSS Feed.

rss internet explorer
RSS in MS Internet Explorer

RSS Safari
RSS in Apple Safari

RSS Firefox
RSS in Mozilla Firefox

 

If no such icon appears, it doesn’t mean that there is no feed for the website, only that the website is not publicizing it in the standard way. Reading through the contents of the specific website may lead you to a link to the RSS feed.

What is an RSS Reader?

It’s a program (a regular desktop application or even an online application) which you use to subscribe to RSS feeds from websites you want to read. The program will check these feeds regularly and let you know when any of the subscriptions is updated.

So instead of regularly visiting all those blogs by your friends only to find out that they haven’t been updated since Infoseek was king of search, you just open your reader and look at the new items, neatly shown in chronological order. A great time saver!

What RSS Readers are out there?

There are many desktop (applications you download and install and run from your computer) readers as well as online readers (you see them through your browser by going to its URL). Some desktop readers are meant to be nothing but readers and others do many things and among them read RSS feeds. For a comprehensive list of readers, check out this link.

Which reader do you recommend?

I’ve tried several RSS readers and the one I like the most and use the most is Google Reader. It’s an online app, so you can use it from any computer and all your subscriptions are there. It’s very well made and it has some neat features. It’s free (as in beer). All you need is a Google account, which you likely already have.

Not only news websites and blogs provide RSS feeds. Cool collaborative websites such as del.icio.us, flickr, Twitter, YouTube, etc, all provide useful RSS feeds. Learn how to use an RSS Reader and soon it will become as important to you as your web browser or email client (how did I live without it!).

Have a favorite reader? Let us know in the comments!