Thursday, May 3, 2007

RSS Explained

Have you ever wondered what those icons that sometimes appear on your address bar or sprinkled around web pages are? Those icons are links to RSS feeds. What are RSS feeds and what do they mean to me?

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, and it is a way to subscribe to the content of a webpage. Ok, great? What does that mean and how can I benefit from it? Basically RSS feeds provide summary articles and headlines to the content of a website. The benefit of an RSS feed is that it gives me a way to peruse the news and articles of the site without having to actually go to the site.

Say you have a website you regularly visit. You probably have several. How do you know they've added a new article or published any new content on their website? You actually go to the website and check. Sometimes you find that their website has not changed at all since you've last visited. You've just wasted some precious time from your life. Wouldn't you want to have a way to quickly see if those websites added any new stuff since you've lasted visited without actually going there? Wouldn't you want to have that ability with ALL the websites you visit?

That all sounds great, but how do I do all that?

The answer is an RSS reader. An RSS reader is a simple program or webpage that displays all the RSS feeds that you subscribe to. A great and easy to use RSS reader is Google's Reader. If you already have a GMail account, signing up for the Google Reader is a snap.

So once you've signed into Google Reader, let's start adding some RSS feeds. Click on the 'Add subscription' button located around the top left. In the text field, enter an RSS feed, say for this blog for example, You should see the FireSnake Designs blog listed in the list of feeds on the left hand side. On the right hand side, you should see a summary listing of the articles of that feed. New articles that you haven't read are highlighted in bold. Clicking on an article opens up a little summary view of that article.

You can add more feeds from websites you regularly follow by clicking on the RSS icons either on the right side of the URL bar, if they have one, or the RSS icon on their site, should they provide you with an RSS feed. If a site I like has an RSS feed, I immediately subscribe it. I have over 100 feeds in my Google Reader and it only takes me a few minutes to peruse the entire list to see if anything new has been added to the websites I regularly visit. I hope this article will save you time and make you more productive.

For an even better explanation of RSS, read "How to Explain RSS the Oprah Way", over at Back in skinny jeans.

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