Website Design, Strategy, Social Networking, SEO, Susan Pomeroy, Ph.D.

Make Your Life Easier with RSS

by Susan Pomeroy

RSS makes your life easier

So what’s the big deal about RSS… it’s just another intimidating ingredient of Internet Alphabet Soup, right?

Not quite. RSS is a way of putting a message into an envelope. The message can be anything digital: an article, an mp3, a video, whatever. The envelope is a few lines of code (XML, to add another ingredient to the soup). With it, you can send your messages to anyone who can read the code—anyone who has a newer browser, or an RSS or “feed” reader. Once a person sets their browser or reader to “tune in” to the URL of your RSS feed, they can receive all of the messages you broadcast, in sequential order. Why is this a great thing, and how will it make your life easier?

You Don’t Have to Know Any Code

To read RSS, you need a newer browser, or an online reader like Google Reader or My Yahoo. Or, to read an audio RSS message (a “podcast,”) you can also use an audio RSS reader like iTunes.

To create RSS, you can use a simple program like Feeder or Feed for All. Or, you can use almost any blogging platform—Blogger, WordPress, Moveable Type, etc., to create RSS feeds automatically, without lifting a finger.

Why Bother Using RSS? Time Savings.

Well, first, let’s start with the reader’s point of view. Is there a subject that you’re really interested in, or follow, by regularly checking certain web sites? Suppose, for instance, you have a Macintosh computer, you write on and about Macs for a living, and you need to keep up with everything Mac. Does this mean you click on a list of bookmarks to log into 40 or 50 web sites several times a day to check breaking Mac news and rumors?

Absolutely not! You use your RSS reader (I personally favor Google Reader) to cut the time you’d spend checking sites in half, or even less.

Speed Through Updates and News Using RSS

How? Simple. First, subscribe to a site’s RSS feed by entering its URL into your feed reader. Often this can be done with one click of your mouse.

Once you’ve subscribed, a list of articles, audio files, etc. will appear in your feed reader or browser. In Google Reader, for example, the list of sites you’ve subscribed to shows up like this:

Screen shot of Google Reader for reading and organizing RSS feeds

On the left is the topic, “mac,” and below it, a list of sites with RSS feeds you’ve subscribed to. The numbers in parentheses indicate the number of unread messages. (The sites that are not bolded contain no unread messages).

Say we want to check the site “9 to 5 Mac.” We highlight it with our cursor. On the right, appears a list of recent updates from 9 to 5 Mac, by title and date. The white background means they’re unread; the blue means you’ve seen them already.

Click on any one of these titles, and you can read the entire article… without ever having to leave your feed reader.

See what I mean? You can scan all the latest headlines and news—or simply see whether or not there is any news—on dozens of blogs or web sites. You can do this just by opening your reader and clicking down your list—and you can do it in five minutes.

RSS, An Easy Way to Communicate

Now, from the site-owner’s point of view, why publish an RSS feed? Well, so people who are interested can keep up with your site quickly and easily. If you have a static site which rarely changes, this will be less useful. But if you own a blog, or frequently post newsletters, software updates, talks, music, etc., RSS is a fantastic and simple tool for keeping in touch with your fans, clients and customers. And, with the current blog explosion, it will be used more and more.

Blogs and RSS

One of the really great things about using a blogging platform to create your web site is that the software is automatically set up to publish RSS. You don’t have to do a thing! All your updates are being automatically streamed to readers who “sign up” by bookmarking your feed’s URL in their feed reader.  This is one of the great benefits of creating sites using WordPress or another blogging platform rather than creating a static site.

But no matter what kind of site you have, RSS can help you keep up with news and new developments more quickly and easily. Try setting up your own feed reader, and when you’re reading a blog you like, and see a (usually orange) graphic like this one… you’ll know exactly what to do… and you’ll have one more little way to make your life easier.

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