A simple guide to RSS: What it is and why you would use it

Really, REALLY BIG RSS feed button

Image by photopia / HiMY SYeD via Flickr

If you’ve been around the web lately, chances are you’ve noticed icons a little bit like that orange one at the left. Sometimes it comes in blue. They all mean the same thing: the site you’re on offers something called “RSS” – Really Simple Syndication.

RSS is a fantastic timesaving tool. If you have a few (or even a lot) of favourite sites you like coming back to visit, you’ll love it. You no longer have to visit each and every one of them to check if there’s anything new – they announce any updates via their RSS service (called a ‘feed’, as in newsfeed) and you get that new update delivered straight to you. It’s a bit like the difference between going down the newsagent to browse for magazines, versus setting up a home delivery subscription to get them right to your mailbox, except these ‘magazines’ are free either way.

You can often get these RSS updates via email, but the best way to handle them without cluttering your inbox even further is through an RSS reader. Don’t worry, it doesn’t cost either. Both Google and Yahoo provide free readers to anyone that has an account, and there’s a few others (like bloglines) out there as well. I like Google Reader, personally, because I can have it as part of my google homepage and I don’t even have to go anywhere to see what’s new.

Once you have a reader, all you need to do next time you see one of these icons on a site you’d like to keep up with, is click it. You’ll be taken step by step through signing up (although often it’s only one or two clicks). In some rare cases, when you click it you’ll see a page that looks frighteningly like gibberish. Don’t panic – copy the address from your address bar, go back to your reader and look for the ‘add subscription’ link – paste it in there and you’re done. (You can see what one of these pages looks like in the you-tube video below) From there on in, you’ll get instant notice any time there’s something new to check out.

One last thing to be aware of, some updates will deliver the whole post from the blog you’re signed up to, but sometimes you’ll only get sent short summaries – usually the first two or three sentences, along with a link to read more on the site. It doesn’t mean your subscription is broken. Some ‘feeds’ will only send summaries, so even if you tell your reader you want a download of the whole thing, it can’t get it. Of course, if you only want summaries your reader will happily shorten any full posts for you.

I found a simple guide to RSS on you-tube, you can click it below. It shows you exactly what readers and subscriptions look like.

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