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How RSS Feeds Work

May 23, 2011
by

For a majority of college students, the following two facts hold true:

A) You spend multiple hours a day on a computer
B) You are busy, and must carefully manage your time

The internet is an incredible resource for information, but unfortunately can take up valuable studying time. If you’re like me, there are several websites that you probably check up on a couple times a day, and this time can really add up. If you want to stay up-to-date on the blogs and news sites that you love without spending hours to do so, then RSS feeds are the answer. I honestly can’t recommend RSS feeds enough, as they have literally revolutionized the way that I consume information online. This guide is geared to the RSS newbie.

What is an RSS feed?
RSS stands for “Really Simple Syndication”. It’s the easiest method to stay on top of articles, posts, etc., without having to visit a single website. For example, say that your friend has a blog that you check every day or two. With RSS feeds, you have the option to ‘Subscribe’ to your friends blog, and their new posts will automatically update on the list of sites that you ‘follow’. The benefits of this are obvious, if you subscribe to ten of your friend’s blogs, you can easily check if any of them have new posts all from 1 location; no longer do you need to manually visit all ten of your friend’s sites.

Google Reader
One of the most popular tools for following RSS feeds is Google Reader. The concept of Google Reader is simple; Reader makes sure that all of the RSS feeds that you follow are synced online. If you use Reader, then you can use your phone, work computer, laptop, etc. to check up on newly updated feeds, and each time you use one device, they will update on the other devices automatically. As a bonus, you can check your feeds on any computer just by logging into your Google account.

To add an RSS feed, you need the RSS link. It will usually will be something like website.com/feed. Many sites will have a button that looks something like the icon at the top of this post; that is the RSS icon and will most likely take you to the site’s feed page. Depending on your browser and RSS reader, you can either copy and paste this address into Google Reader or just click on the link.

Read and Unread
With RSS feeds, you don’t delete the posts that you have read or aren’t interested in. Instead you mark them as ‘Read’ or ‘Unread’. As long as they are ‘Unread’ then they will show up on your list of feeds, once they are marked ‘Read’ then they will essentially be archived and will not show up unless your search for them among already read feeds. If you scan a list of headlines and none of the articles seem interesting, just click on ‘Mark All Read’, and they will be removed from your list of new feeds.

Apps
There are dozens of great applications for reading RSS feeds, for Mac, PC, iPhone, iPad, Android, etc. Most of these apps allow you to log-in using your Google Reader credentials so that your feeds will stay synced (as explained above). All of these apps have different interfaces and ways of managing feeds, so it’s up to you to find the one that you like the best. I will, however, give you a couple of recommendations as a starting place.

Reeder: I swear by Reeder, whether it be on the iPhone, iPad, or Mac. Why? It’s fast and the interface is simple and sleek.
NetNewsWire: The most popular RSS program. Not quite visually appealing enough for my taste, but a lot of people swear by it.

If you have any other questions about RSS feeds, feel free to leave a comment below. And be sure to subscribe to this blog’s RSS feed, which can be found at the icon on the right.

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