RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication.
It’s a handy way to get updates from the websites you want to keep apprised of.
Normally, to find out if a website you like has updated their content, you would have to remember to visit it every day. That’s a problem because some sites may update their content more often than once a day; others may update only occasionally. Either way, you’re either visiting too frequently or not enough. And, in any case, there’s no telling whether by the time you visit, they’ll have fresh content up:
RSS to the rescue
RSS solves this problem. Instead of you going manually to a favorite website’s homepage, the website makes availble a special web address that you give to what’s called an feed reader. Located at the RSS web address is the “feed” of updated content.
Here’s an excerpt of what it looks like:
As you can see, each item of content has a title, a link, a date, and (not shown) either an excerpt or the full content of the posted article.
RSS feed readers
Obviously, you’re not going to be checking the RSS feed addresses manually. That’d be worse than manually checking homepages.
Rather, you enter the feed address into your feed reader, also called an RSS aggregator (because it brings together feeds from many websites into one convenient place).
The feed reader occasionally (usually hourly) checks your favorite websites to see if they have updated content. If they do, it’s indicated in some way in the feed reader. Usually, they use the same display format as popular e-mail programs like Outlook and Thunderbird. I.e., new and unread items are displayed with titles bolded. You can read the content right in the RSS feed reader, or click on the site’s URL to go there.
I can’t go into very much detail into any one feed reader in this article, because this is just an overview and introduction. I’ve listed one or two common and easy feed readers below for various platforms below to get you started.
For the most readers, after installation, you should be able to drag the RSS feed address to your RSS reader.
Finding the RSS feed address
Most websites have a prominent orange RSS icon which is linked to their RSS feed address. Just drag the icon to your feed reader. Or right-click on the icon and select (depending upon your browser), “Copy Link Address” or “Copy Shortcut Address”. Paste that address into your feed reader.
If you can’t find the RSS address link, many feedreaders will automatically find the RSS feed address once you enter the main homepage address (such as http://digitivity.org/).
FeedReader (that’s the name) is a free and open source RSS reader for Windows. It’s a very small download (2.7 MB), and it has a simple interface which is fine for RSS newbies:
Liferea is, like Feedreader, a simple and easy-to-use RSS aggregator. Just drag a site’s RSS icon to the Liferea window and it’ll create a subscription for you. Liferea is only available for Linux. Liferea is a supported application in the Ubuntu repositories. Click here in Firefox to install Liferea on Ubuntu.
Apple Mac OS X feedreaders
Vienna is a nice, full-featured RSS feed aggregator application for Apple Mac OS X which is also free and open source. According to Michael Ströck of the Vienna project, it is “is a completely native OS X application written in Objective-C/Cocoa.” The 2.4 version of Vienna was just released yesterday:
The advantage of a cross-platform feed reader is that you don’t have to learn a new program as you move from computer to computer.
Firefox offers an RSS feed reader built right into the browser. When you’re at a site you want to subscribe to, just click on the RSS icon on the right side of the location bar:
RSSOwl is a free and open source Java-based RSS aggregator that works on Windows, Linux/Ubuntu, and and Mac OS/X. It has a lot of features you might want after you progress beyond the simple feed readers.
BlogBridge is a free and open source Java-based RSS aggregator that works on Windows, Linux/Ubuntu, and and Mac OS/X. It also has a lot of features you might want after you progress beyond the simple feed readers.
Web-based RSS feedreaders
Some people prefer web-based feedreaders because it gives them the ability to access their favorite sites’ updated content lists from anywhere.
What is Atom, and how does it differ from RSS?
Atom is another web feed format. It differs slightly from RSS. In the early days of web content syndication, there was a kind of rivalry between the two as to which would prevail. But these days, both exist in a kind of relaxed truce. Both have different advantages, and almost every feed reader supports both formats, so you don’t really have to bother with the intricacies of the two.
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