This article was first published on 2008-04-17. Due to the age of this article, it is included here for archive purposes only.
Do you find yourself returning to your favorite websites over and over again to check for new stuff? Wouldn’t it be great to get your favorite web content delivered to you like the morning paper, but more often, just as soon as it’s published? And all in one organizable spot? Then RSS is for you.
RSS, or Really Simple Syndication, is basically a short cut to posts on the web that you want to read. They work pretty much the same way as a podcast does in iTunes. You find a site that has articles or blog posts that you read frequently. You find the subscribe option, if the site has the option, and subscribe. The posts start coming to you the same way iTunes downloads new podcasts for you.
The best way to grasp this premise is watching this genius video from Common Craft called, "RSS in Plain English". It’s quick and explains it in terms that anyone can understand.
There are different options for how you want to read your feeds, and they all have advantages over each other. Google’s support page says there are over 2000 different feed readers. These readers span desktop applications, web readers, and even internet browsers.
Web readers can be advantageous for people who use different computers in the course of the day. College students for example could check their feeds between classes in a computer lab, and again when they go home or back to their dorm. Web readers keep track of what you have already looked at between the different computers. This means you don’t have to keep reading the same post.
Web readers are simple to set up and try out. They don’t involve downloading software. Many of sites like Google, Yahoo, and AOL have feed reading software. If you have an account with one of these companies, you don’t need to sign-up either. Google makes for a good example. If you have an iGoogle homepage, there is even a section you can add that displays the five newest feeds. This section also lets you know how many new ones you have waiting.
You might want to look into the reader that goes with a site that you use frequently already. The point of RSS feeds is that you have to do less clicking and searching, so having to enter more URL’s starts to diminish that.
NetNewsWire has a web and a desktop component, but that is covered in depth under desktop readers.
When you click the subscribe to feed button, you are moved to a separate page. This page gives a list of web readers that you can subscribe to.
Desktop readers differ from web readers because they involve downloading a program to your computer. These can run in the background, letting you easily check new feeds without opening a browser window. Some readers like NetNewsWire say, in the dock icon, how many feeds are waiting to be read.
If you can’t find a feed for a site, try typing CTRL + F. This opens up Safari’s Find feature. Type RSS or Feed into the box and it will scan the page for you, looking for whatever you typed in the box. Do keep in mind though that not every website has RSS Feeds. Another quick way to find feeds is to click the RSS button at the right side of the address bar. This will open up your default RSS Reader and insert the RSS Address for you.
Readers also give you the option to sort your feeds into folders. You can subscribe to a lot of photography and news blogs for example. If you feel like reading news headlines, and not looking at pictures, it is easy to keep the photography out of your way until later. Even within the news you could sort all entertainment blogs separate from sports blogs, and keep both of those separate from main headlines.
Interesting Tip: Macs have the built in ability to display RSS Feeds as a screensaver. If you go into the screensaver preference pane, “RSS Visualizer” is an option. There are two problems with this. One, most people aren’t sitting in front of their computer when it is in screensaver mode. Two, depending on the length of the feed, you might not have time to read the whole thing before that feed flips around to the next in line.