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What is RSS?

When I discovered blogging it took me ages to work out exactly what RSS was, and why I would bother with it. I’m glad I persevered – it’s extremely useful and I wouldn’t be without it now. So I’ll explain it as simply as I can, starting with what’s in it for you.

The problem
There are a lot of interesting websites out there, many of them being updated regularly with things you don’t want to miss. But it’s hard work keeping up with them all if you have to visit each site in turn to see whether any new content has been added.

Although some helpful bloggers give you the option to subscribe to a blog via e-mail, you don’t necessarily want to give out your e-mail address to every single blog or website you read.

The solution
An RSS Feed is a quick and easy way to check for new content on your favourite sites. It saves you the trouble of visiting a website and waiting for the page to load before you find out whether there’s anything new to read.

For example, here’s the feed for the Wishful Thinking blog as it appears in my Firefox web browser:

feedglimpse.PNG

The ‘feed’ is a list of recent posts on the blog. It takes a split-second to open the feed by clicking on the toolbar, so you can instantly see whether or not there’s a new post for you to read. By flicking through each of the feeds on the toolbar, you can quickly review your favourite blogs and sites before deciding which to visit.

Feed subscriptions are not only convenient, but maintain your privacy – the website owner does not have access to your e-mail address or any other personal data. You can also easily ‘unsubscribe’ at any time – by deleting the feed from your feed reader.

“What’s a feed reader?”
A feed reader is a piece of software that allows you to (you’ve guessed it) read RSS feeds. There are several different types of feed reader. We’ve just seen the feed reader built into the Firefox web browser. Here’s the Wishful Thinking feed as it appears in the Newsgator Online reader:

newsgator.PNG


“OK you’ve convinced me – how do I set it up?”

1. Open the Wishful Thinking blog in another window by clicking the RSS icon below:

RSS link.PNG

2. This takes you to Wishful Thinking feed page, hosted by Feedblitz. The most important thing is the URL (web address) at the top of your browser. For Wishful Thinking, the feed URL is:

http://feeds.feedblitz.com/wishfulthinking

This is what you’ll need to put into your reader…

3. The top right of the feed page gives you a choice of readers:

readers.PNG

Click on the links to choose a reader, and follow the on-screen instructions for setting it up.

4. Alternatively, use the feed reading features of a web browser – such as Firefox, Opera or Internet Explorer.

“It sounds like a good idea but I haven’t got time right now”
Fair enough. The simplest way to subscribe to The Wishful Thinking blog is to sign up for e-mail updates. Or you could just bookmark the web page and drop by when it suits you.

“So why is it called RSS?”
If this all seems a bit complicated, then you’ll appreciate the irony that ‘RSS’ stands for ‘Real Simple Syndication’.