I was asked recently by Kah Wai on what RSS is about. After explaining I thought it might be nice to post it up as well so I don’t have to repeat myself if I ever get asked again. :P
RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication and is also commonly known as web feeds. It is an extremely useful tool for keeping track of your favourite web sites (news, blogs, etc) without having to go to each and every one of them every so often to check if there are any new updates.
As an example, here‘s the public view of my Bloglines feeds. The list of feeds I keep track of are on the left pane, and clicking on any of them would display its content on the right. This way, all I have to do is login to a single page and start reading anything that is marked as unread (public view does not have this, you would have to sign up for an account).
So first up, how do you determine whether your favourite websites have an RSS feed? It can be safe to assume most sites would have one. But here are some clues which you can look for on the page:
This icon at the right of the address bar in Firefox or on the page itself (now the de facto RSS/web feeds icon):
Plain text words of ‘XML’ or ‘RSS’ or these icons:
To be able to keep track of the RSS feed you have chosen, you would need an ‘RSS aggregator’ or otherwise known as a ‘feed reader’. There are a variety of choices around but they can be categorised into 2 distinct categories, offline and online versions.
Although both require Internet access to retrieve the feeds, offline RSS readers download the feed data to your computer and no longer require it when viewed. Some offline RSS readers are SharpReader and FeedReader.
Online RSS readers on the other hand require you to have an active Internet connection when viewing the feeds. Examples of them are Bloglines and Google Reader.
As you would have noticed earlier, I am using Bloglines to monitor all my feeds. Since most people nowadays have always-on broadband connections, having to be online while reading the feeds isn’t really a problem. The other advantage for online RSS readers becomes apparent when you use multiple computers as it will always be tracked correctly and all you have to do is login without having to install anything (web email is a perfect example). I did try out Google Reader but didn’t really like its interface and have stuck with Bloglines.
Once you have chosen your RSS reader, just add the RSS link you got from the page into your reader/aggregator of choice and you’re good to go. If you’ve decided to use Bloglines, here’s a neat trick for quickly adding RSS feeds without having to manually determine its availability. ;) Once you have dragged it to your bookmarks toolbar, subscribing to RSS feeds would be as simple as clicking on that bookmark.
Hope my brief explanation on ‘speed reading the web‘ was decent enough. ;) Comments and suggestions are welcomed. :)