RSS: What is it, and how do I use it?

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RSS What?

RSS – We’ve all heard about it (or at least should have by now), but may not really understand what it is, what it does, and how it can add value to what we do every day.

RSS, originally an acronym for “Rich Site Summary” today is known as “Really Simple Syndication” and is a technology that allow us to aggregate news and information with very little effort and time. In the “Old Days” of the internet, in order to keep track of sites or news we found online, we had to rely on the option of Bookmarking or creating “favorites” in our browser, and then manually visiting these sites to see if there were any new updates or additions. If your in a position where you need to keep up on lots of topics, news, and changes that happen daily, then you will likely build a collection of bookmarks that could grow well into the hundreds. Let’s face it, at that point there is no efficient way you can manually organize and check each of these sites individually and still keep up with all your daily responsibilities at the same time.

RSS To The Rescue!

Why is RSS a better option than Bookmarking? Simple! Time, Effort, Near Real-time news access. Think of it like this: Instead of making the time and effort it takes to run out to your local news stand for the various daily news papers, the news is now delivered right to your doorstep. Now consider the morning news edition, the evening edition, the late edition, etc. That adds up to a lot of news papers and a lot of trips to the news stand. And what about breaking news? There’s a good chance you’d miss out on something timely if you had to go get it yourself. RSS takes all the time and effort away from getting your news and information and delivers it ALL to you, keeping you informed and up-to-date!

Wow, That’s Great, But How Do I Use it?

To get started with RSS, you first need a RSS or “feed” reader. There are many available, but my favorites are Netvibes (netvibes.com) and Google Reader. For the record, I use netvibes for all my RSS needs. Because readers have different methods for adding and managing feeds, I will not cover that portion here and save it for another post.

Once you have decided on a reader, the next thing you need to do is find the RSS Feeds you want delivered. How do you do that? RSS feeds have adopted an icon that makes identifying them easy.

Standard RSS Icon

Standard RSS Icon

RSS Address Bar Icon

RSS Icon in Firefox Address Bar

If you see this icon on a web page or in your FireFox Browser Address Bar, then the site or page you are on has a live RSS feed that you can “subscribe” to or add to your RSS Reader. Some sites may also simply provide a “subscribe” link but be careful to be sure it is an RSS feed link and NOT an email newsletter subscription link.

Copy Link Location

Getting the RSS Address: Firefox

Once you have located the RSS Feed link you can right-click the link and select “Copy Link Location“. This will copy the URL of the RSS feed to the clipboard of your computer. Once you’ve copied the URL, you will need to paste it into your preferred RSS feed reader where it will display headlines, links and descriptions of the host web page or site.

Again, depending on your preferred reader, adding feeds may differ and I will not describe the different methods for each reader here. Consult the FAQ or instructions available from your Feed Reader for information on that.

In some limited cases, the “copy link location” option does not always produce a usable RSS feed link. If this happens, you are still able to click through on the link which will open a new page listing the RSS feed either in a readable web page format, or in the native RSS XML syntax. From this page, now you can simply copy the URL directly from the Browser’s Address Bar and paste it into your Reader.
RSS Feed Url Seen in Firefox

Copying the RSS Address from the browser

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