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Using RSS feeds

This post has been made in response to a number of people mentioning to me that they don’t entirely understand how RSS feeds work, and how they are able to subscribe to them.

An RSS feed stands for Really Simple Syndication. What it is in actuality is a small file that is associated with a website that gets updated every time the website is updated. So, in the case of a blog, each time there is a new post, the RSS file gets updated with the new information. Typically this information includes the title, and either a synopsis of the post or the post in its entirety. What you, the computer user, can then do is subscribe to this file, so that you can easily see if there has been anything new added to the site.

There are a number of ways to subscribe, and how you do it depends on how much you really use them. For heavy users of RSS feeds, you are best to use a feed aggregator, of which there are heaps around online for free.  When you load it up, it checks all the RSS files that it has subscribed to, and pulls down all the new posts directly to your desktop. You can then quickly go through and read what is new on each website, and go to that website if you want to read something further. I personally subscribe currently to about 35 feeds, but that goes up and down as I add and delete certain ones. I use it for all my news with subscriptions to feeds from nzherald.co.nz, cnn.com, time.com etc, as well as to friends blogs and Facebook status updates. Once you are aware of these feeds, you’ll be surprised how many websites have them!

So how do you actually subscribe, well, if you have never subscribed before, you can probably use the built in aggregator that is in most browsers. However, if you start to get a few subscriptions, I would recommend a third party aggregator. I personally use New News Wire, because it syncs across to a web based server, and I can then use the same app on my iPhone. So my feeds all get synchronised. For most people though, that is way too geeky :-). Another option is also to use iGoogle, which is a web based aggregator, where you can customise your home page with different feeds.

First, you need to click on this logo:

RSS feed logo

RSS feed logo

When you see the RSS logo, that means there is a feed associated with that page. By clicking it, you are able to subscribe with either the aggregator of you choice, or with your browser. Once subscribed, the rest is almost history, each time you load up your RSS aggregator, it automatically updates with any new posts that have been made to that website.

All in all, this is a pretty geeky way of using the Internet, but its real power comes when you have lots of sites you regularly check, cos it does it all for you. It saves having to go back to the same page over and over just to see that nothing new has been posted. But THAT, is how you can subscribe to this blog, and many others :-).

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  1. March 26, 2009 at 9:48 am

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