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RSS feeds: Internet the easy way

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RSS feeds: Internet the easy way

RSS IconWhat if I told you could check dozens of Web sites without actually visiting the sites? I mean, all at once. In one place!

Really Simple Syndication* (RSS) feeds make this possible.

The idea is a simple one. Web site content is packaged into a format that is readable by a wide variety of software programs. This means that the same content can be delivered to email programs, phones, other Web pages, and special programs called feed readers or aggregators. The opportunities are endless.

How it works

RSS feeds can deliver any wed-based content, including blog entries, news headlines, images, and audio and/or video (called podcasts). Content is almost always something that is updated on a regular basis.

Each feed is really a file (in XML format). This file is downloaded by the feed reader. This can happen once a day, or several times a day, depending on the feed reader settings. The feed reader then shows you the headlines and/or a summary of each item in the feed. If it looks interesting, you can click on it to visit the Web page containing the full article.

Podcasts

Podcasts work a little differently. Instead of downloading a summary, the feed reader can download the video or audio automatically. This means you can get the latest edition of Wait Wait… Don't Tell Me? as soon as it becomes available online. iTunes is by far the easiest podcasting feed reader available.

iTunes also has an exhaustive listing of podcasts available online. While the list is found in the iTunes store, the vast majority of podcasts are available for free! You can learn more about podcasts in iTunes in the iTunes podcast help section.

How to find feeds

Feeds are usually indicated by this icon RSS Icon. This is now the standard for indicating there is an RSS feed. Depending on your browser, this icon may appear in a couple of places.

In Firefox, this icon can be found in the address bar, like this:

RSS In Firefox

In Internet Explorer, the icon is found just above, and to the right, of the page window, like this:

RSS In IE8

Whenever you see this icon, there is one or more feeds available on the page. You can then use your browser to consume (regularly download), any or all of the feeds you find. You can either browse to the feed and click "Subscribe", or copy and paste the URL into your feed reader.

Where to begin

If you use Microsoft Outlook, the easiest way to start is to read your feeds right with your email. Below is an example of how feed appear in Outlook.

RSS In Outlook

Follow these steps to get the feed for this blog in Outlook.

  1. Look for the RSS icon at the top of this page
  2. Click the icon
  3. Your browser will display the feed content
  4. Click on the "Subscribe" link or button
  5. Enjoy!

In Internet Explorer, your feed will automatically appear in Outlook in the "RSS Feeds" as well as in the "Feeds" tab in your Favorites.

In Firefox, you can choose where you want to read your feed when you click the "Subscribe Now" button.

As new content appears, the feed title will become bold and the number of unread feeds appears next to the feed name - just like an email folder.

Don't have Outlook? Try the free Google Reader, or use Firefox's Live Bookmarks, or even Internet Explorer.

Conclusion

RSS feeds are exceptionally handy. Rather than going to each of the sites you love to see what's new, the content comes to you! Check your favorite Web pages for feeds. Many sites list all of the feeds they have available.

*Also "Rich Site Summary", which is possibly a more correct, but less common, resolution to the acronym.

~ John