Friday, July 27, 2007

What is RSS?

I've had many people ask me what is RSS since starting my blog. Even my brother had no idea why I put that big orange button at the top of my page nor why I was always asking people to "subscribe" to it. As such, I've decided to put together a quick post to explain just what an RSS feed is and why you should use or care about it.


What is RSS?

RSS is a family of Web feed formats used to publish frequently updated content, such as blog entries, news headlines, and podcasts, in a standardized format. Posts from these sites are collected in an RSS document, typically referred to as a "feed", which contains either a summary of the content from the associated website or the full text. When it only contains summaries of the content, it is referred to as a "partial feed". If you are viewing a partial feed, you must click to read the rest of the post.

For reference, here at The Weekly Crisis, despite requiring you to "Click here to read more", uses full RSS feeds, which allows you to view the entire post in the feed reader of your choice without having to click through to the actual site to read it.


How Does This Help Me?

In the old days, to keep track of all of your websites, you had to bookmark every site and return to them on a regular basis in order to read or find out about new updates. This leads to the refreshing of sites in hopes they updated and the constant viewing of old content and wasted time.

By subscribing to an RSS feed, you eliminate the clutter of the mass of bookmarks, no longer have to manually check to see if a site is updated and can organize and view all of your favourite sites from one convenient web-based feed reading program.


How Do I Subscribe A Feed?

You can subscribe to any number of RSS feeds through a web-based feed reader. There are hundreds of different feed readers out there, but Google Reader and Bloglines are two of the more popular and easier to use feed readers.

To subscribe, simply locate the website or blog's RSS feed, which is universally advertised with the big orange button that accompanied this article and is typically located in the top right corner of a website, as you can see at the top of my sidebar. While everyone displays their feed subscription differently, you can typically find it somewhere near the top of the page on every site.


How Do I Read A Feed?

Once you have signed up with a free feed reader (I use Google Reader), you simply subscribe to a feed, as described above, and, from then on, it will show up in your feed reading program. You can view the content of that page in your feed reader from any web browser - at work, school, home or anywhere in between.

Once it is showing up in your feed reading program of choice, it is a simple matter of clicking the feed you wish to view in the listings.

Typically, you can see the listings on the left side of the reader window. Each feed will show up separately and you simply click it to show that feed in the main window. You can also organize each feed into a folder, such as all the comic book feeds in one folder, news in another, video games in yet another and so on.

Whenever there are new posts or feed items, the corresponding folder and feed listing will be displayed in bold with the number of new items in brackets.

Below, you can click to see a larger image of my feed reader. I've listed a few key features of RSS feeds in the image, but the best way to find out what an RSS has to offer you is by diving right in and subscribing.




Conclusion


RSS is the easiest way to keep track of the websites you view online and is far more than a simple bookmark tracker. You can view the actual content in your window, by-passing all of the ads and cluttered user interfaces, see instantly whether or not a website has updated yet, easily catch up on all the days news from a variety of sources at the click of a single button, quickly add or remove new feeds whenever you stumble upon a new site and dozens of more options.

RSS is quickly integrating itself into every facet of the internet, from comment sections to forums to torrent sites to the standard news and blog postings.

On top of all this, you can customize your feed reader to look the way you want and these feeds can even be included on your own blog or website. For instance, I use my own feed to display the "Recent Posts" on my sidebar instead of manually updating the links everytime I post.

Now that you've learned what an RSS feed actually is, feel free to subscribe to my feed and never miss another Weekly Crisis update again!


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