Q. What is RSS? (In terms we can understand)

by | Oct 10, 2010 | At Checkerboard, Integrated Marketing, Web Development | 0 comments

I find that there is a ton of information online that interests me, and it’s usually a battle to organize it and make it easy to get to. One way I’ve done this is to use RSS feeds to read websites. I recently got an iPad, and this has renewed by interest in RSS because it’s an ideal way to consume news on this device. RSS essentially turns the news/info gathering process from a “pull” to a “push” activity. Instead of going to various websites to read, content feeds are pushed to me. Ok, great. But, what exactly is RSS and how do I use it?

What is RSS?

You can quickly get into a deep, technical conversation about RSS, but from a practical, user point of view, it’s pretty simple. RSS stands for “Really Simple Syndication” (see, even the name has “simple” in it) and is a technical means by which a website can syndicate its content. Websites that are built on a content management system (CMS) or “blogging” platform can provide their content in an RSS feed that other programs can read. Almost all websites these days that are offering fresh, timely content are using a CMS of some kind. WordPress is one example. Programs that can read RSS feeds are called RSS readers. In your RSS reader you enter the RSS address and it pulls the content in. Now, do this for all of the websites you are interested in, and you suddenly have a personalized newspaper. Most RSS readers offer additional features like:

  • Folders so you can organize your feeds
  • The ability to mark stories as read or unread
  • Marking stories as favorites
  • Sharing stories with others via social networks (Twitter, Facebook, etc)

Finding RSS Feeds

Finding and entering RSS feeds into your RSS reader can be a bit more complicated that it should be, so here’s a walkthrough. To find RSS feeds, just visit your favorite website and look for mention of “RSS” or the RSS icon. Depending on the website, it may use the RSS icon and be more prominent in the header, or it may be among a number of text links in the footer. Here is an example from Web Designer Depot (www.webdesignerdepot.com), which places the RSS link in the header.

RSS links in the header of Web Designer Depot website

Also, if you find an RSS link it may bring you to another page with a long list of RSS feeds. In this case, the website is offering RSS feeds for different content types on its site. For example, if it is a news site, it may have dedicated feeds for local news, sports, world news, lifestyle, etc. So select the feed(s) you are interested in. Once you find it, click it to open the page. Depending on the browser you are using, the page contents will vary, but that part is not important. What is important is the URL in your browser. This is the RSS feed that you want to copy and put into your RSS reader. This is the RSS feed URL for Web Designer Depot.

RSS feed URL

(Note: If the website uses Feedburner to manage its feeds, when you click the RSS link you may be brought to a page with a drop-down menu allowing you to automatically add the feed to the RSS reader of your choice, which makes things a bit easier.)

RSS Readers

There are a number of RSS readers available for the different computing form factors (desktop, phone, tablet). On the desktop I use Google Reader. If you have a GMail or Google account already, I would take a look at this one first. One of its advantages is that it’s web based, so it’s available on any computer by just logging into your GMail or Google account. Another advantage is that many phone and tablet RSS readers sync with Google Reader so that you only have to organize your feeds in one place (Google Reader) and it will sync with your readers on your phone and/or tablet. Many email programs will also read RSS feeds, so you can combine your email management and news gathering into one application. On the iPhone I have been using Feeds ($3.99), which syncs with Google Reader. On the iPad I just started using MobileRSS HD ($4.99), but have been looking at Reeder ($4.99) as well, which offers a unique visual presentation of your news feeds. Another interesting one on the iPad is The Early Edition ($4.99), which Jason mentioned in an earlier post. The Early Edition formats the information to look like a newspaper, which is a nice touch. Both MobileRSS HD and Reeder will sync with Google Reader, and The Early Edition imports your feeds from Google Reader. Theses are just a few of the many options available. A quick Google search for “RSS reader” will reveal many more.

Wrap Up

If you’d like to take your online news gathering/consumption process to the next level and make it more efficient, take a look at RSS. It’s a great way to filter out the noise and get the content you are interested in, organized the way you want, across all of your computing devices. If you are a content creator with your own website, you should also make sure you are offering an RSS feed on your site. If you are one of our MarketSmart PowerSite customers, you can check that off your list – all of our MarketSmart PowerSites are built on WordPress, which automatically provides RSS feeds for your website.

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