What Is RSS and How Do I Use It?

January 27, 2009

in blogging,Internet

by Tina Gasperson

You may have heard a lot about RSS and “readers” lately. RSS is a term that describes a document, encoded with XML, that lists a news feed of frequently updated information, such as that coming from blogs, news Web sites, or even videos from a site like YouTube.com. By publishing an RSS feed, site owners make it possible for their audience to subscribe to these updates. Most blogs have a place where you can sign up to receive updates.

The idea is that by subscribing, the audience gets an email notification, along with an excerpt from the post or the entire post. Great idea, unless you subscribe to a lot of frequently updated blogs, because your email inbox can get flooded with these notifications, and instead of being convenient, RSS subscriptions start being an irritation.

Enter the concept of the reader. When you use a reader, it collects all your RSS subscriptions in a separate, special place and you get to visit that place whenever you like to find new updates, without having to check your email or even visit your favorite blogs.

It’s like your own personal Web page that gets automatically updated with lots of cool new content according to your specifications.

One popular reader is produced by Google. If you have a Google account, go to reader.google.com and click on “add a subscription.” Enter the URL to an RSS feed. If you’re having a hard time finding the RSS URL, look at the page source and search for “rss.” The URL for the RSS feed will be near the top of the page, right after your RSS search result, and will be something like “http://blogyouareinterestedin.com/feed”. If you stay logged in to Google Reader, you can also subscribe to most blogs by looking for and clicking on any subscribe options you see, especially those that are marked “RSS”. Google Reader will automatically put the content on your reader page.



Another easy-to-use reader is Bloglines. Like Google Reader, Bloglines is Web-based, so you don’t have to download any software to make it work. Once you sign up, you get your own customizable page housing all your subscriptions in the format that works best for you. One nice aspect of Bloglines is that if you’re not sure about the RSS URL, you can type in the main URL and Bloglines will try to find the RSS URL for you.

With RSS and readers, you can sit back, relax, and let your favorite Web sites come to you.

Tina Gasperson (tinahdee@gmail.com), affectionately known as Computer Lady by her family, has been writing about IT, home computing, and the Internet for more than a decade.