Monday, June 22, 2009

How to keep youRSSelf informed


No, that's not a typo in the title.



One of the best and fastest methods of keeping up to date with the contents of websites is the phenomenon of RSS feeds. In this post, I will explain what RSS is, and how you can get it set up on your own computer. It is very easy to do, and only requires a few simple steps.

What is RSS?



RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. Syndication is the practice used by newspapers, blogs, and radio whereby multiple outlets run content, like articles, from the same source. You've probably heard of people being referred to as "So-and-so, the syndicated columnist." Ann Landers, for example, writes a column, and hundreds of newspapers around the world print her column in their papers. This is syndication. Another example is cartoons, which are created once, but printed multiple times in multiple papers and websites. RSS allows you to receive a "newsfeed" directly to your computer, or website, each time there's a new article, letting you know what has been posted, what the title is, and some even give you a brief overview of its content. This saves you the trouble of repeatedly visiting a website in order to look for new content, and let's you easily pick and choose which articles you will read.

One of the great things about RSS is that many websites have RSS feeds for specific sections of their site. For instance, you can subscribe to the Sports section of a website, and only get RSS feeds about Sports. Most allow you to subscribe to receive feeds announcing all new posts/articles.

Subscription simply means that you have clicked on a button telling your feed reader to check that website for new content every so often. You can usually even set the interval of how often you want a site to be checked.

So, how do I get started?



First, you need some method of receiving and reading your RSS feeds. I will explain a few ways here.

Web-based feed readers



These may require you to register for an account on their website, but you are not required to download or install anything; it is all accessible on the internet, which means you can read your RSS feeds from anywhere you have internet access, no matter which computer you're on.



Exclusive feed readers



This is exactly what is sounds like: a program you can download, that is designed specifically to read RSS feeds. Some cost money, and some are free. I was able to find the following in a preliminary search:


Firefox


In case you are unfamiliar with the world's favorite web browser, meet Firefox: Internet Explorer's fancy, grown-up cousin. One of the greatest things about FF is the ability to install "addons," which give your browser abilities. For instance, I have addons installed that block ads on web pages, give me control of iTunes, or any other player, from the bottom of my browser window (so I don't have to switch over to iTunes to do things with the music), allow me to play YouTube videos in a sidebar while I do other things in the main window, etc. I LOOOOOVE Firefox! These are some of the addons you can install that will allow you to receive RSS feeds via Firefox: (PS- If you don;t have FF, it is free, and can be downloaded here. Installation of addons is as simple as clicking on a button.)



Got a reader, now how do I get content?



Go to your favorite website and look for the RSS icon (), or a link that is labeled RSS. Sometimes this is all it takes. Other sites ask what type of RSS feed you want. I don't know the difference, so I just click on XML, and it always works. Your browser will ask you where you want to add your RSS feed, just as if you were adding a bookmark. Simply create yourself a bookmark folder exclusively for your RSS feeds.

Now, whenever you open your feed reader, you will see the new content that has been added to the website you added. Lather, rinse, and repeat as necessary.

Visual step-by-step



Here's a walkthrough, using a website that everyone should follow closely, Beetle Blogger.


  1. Go to http://beetlebabee.wordpress.com/

  2. Scroll down until you see the text about RSS in the left-hand column:

  3. Would you like to be informed about new Entries or Comments? You can subscribe to both, if you want to, but you have to do it separately here. Click on "Entries RSS," and you will see something like this (Note: I'm on a Mac, so yours may look different.):

  4. Put the bookmark in the folder you want to keep your RSS feeds in, and PRESTO! You're done! Open up your feed reader and you should see the most recent posts from this website. Easy-peasy.

  5. Be sure to look for RSS availability at other sites you visit. They don't all have it, but be sure to look. Also, if you click on an RSS link and it takes you to a second page that asks which type of RSS feed you want, remember to click on XML and everything will be just fine.

  6. Remember: The best way to handle RSS feeds is to read the new ones each day, instead of letting them pile up on you.



Want more tips?





Why did you show me this?



Because, quite frankly, I don't know if I can continue to spend dozens of hours each week putting emails together to keep people informed. You may need to start doing at least some of it yourself. So, here's a start: Be sure to sign up for RSS feeds from the following sites: