Update to Post: Google is shutting down Google Reader as of July 1, 2013. The most frequently recommended replacement across blog posts is Feedly. Also on the recommended list is Newsblur, mentioned in our post below.
Keeping up with current events, news, case opinions, and other web content that are available can be an overwhelming prospect, especially with the abundance of information literally at our fingertips. One way that you can keep up with changing web content — in one place AND at a pace you choose — is to use an RSS Feed.
The Big Details. RSS is an acronym for Rich Site Summary (or sometimes referred to as Really Simple Syndication). Online publishers use RSS to syndicate their content automatically. Thus, when you use an RSS Feed you no longer have to visit sites individually every time you want to see if there have been updates. Instead, your RSS Feed aggregates information from many sites into just one site. Now that’s a cool tool!
The Little Details. An RSS document is called a feed (or sometimes you’ll see it called a web feed or channel). It includes full-text or summary-text of the websites you are interested in getting updated information from. You read your RSS feed by using software called an RSS Reader (or sometimes called a feed reader or aggregator). This software allows you to receive the RSS Feeds from various sites and displays them for you to read. You can set up an RSS Reader on your desktop computer or you can use a web-based RSS Reader. It’s important to note that not all RSS Readers work on all platforms (Windows, Mac, Linux). Some are cross-platform, but some are not.
Desktop or Web-based. So, let’s talk about how to decide between a desktop reader and a web-based reader. If you will only use your RSS Reader on one computer, a desk-top reader is fine. But, if you want to access your feeds on different computers (whether you have a different computer at home or will be traveling without a computer), you might want to use a web-based reader instead. With a web-based reader, you can access your RSS Reader from any computer anywhere.
There are a lot of RSS Readers out there. Below is a brief list of RSS Readers that should be easy enough for a beginner and that are also free.
What Does It Look Like? Not all RSS Readers look exactly like the one below, but it will give you an idea. Notice that there is a section for your folders, a section that lists your feeds, and a place where you can read a feed.
Setting It Up. How do you set up your RSS Feed? First, select an RSS Reader (see list above or search out one on your own). Go to the RSS Reader site of your choice and download per their directions. Once your RSS Reader is set up, you are ready to subscribe to your desired feeds. Note that many RSS Readers offer suggested feeds for you to sign up for — either individually or in packages. Feel free to ignore these and set up your own!
Subscribing To Feeds. There are a couple of ways to subscribe to a specific website via your RSS Reader. First, you can go to the website you’d like to “follow” and click on the RSS icon button at the website and follow the instructions that come up. The typical RSS icon button is an orange square with a white dot and two white curved lines.
The symbol has some variations and occasionally the letters XML are used. The other way to subscribe is to enter the URL of the website into a box on your RSS Reader. Where this box appears will depend on what RSS Reader you select, but it should be easy to locate.
Managing & Reading Your Feeds. Most RSS Readers also offer a way to set up folders for your feeds so that you can organized them. You can receive notices about updates on your feed through email or real-time. To check on your feeds, simply log in to your RSS reader; the newest updates will be available at the top.Photo credit (Subscribe): robblatt via photo pin cc Photo credit (Reader page): Photo credit: vnoel via photo pin cc