What is an RSS feed, and what do I do with it?


We have had quite a few people ask about the little orange RSS icon, so here is a quick overview of RSS feeds and what to do with them.

First of all, RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication (or Resource Description Framework Site Summary if you want to get technical). Basically, RSS just grabs the latest content from a website without any of the design stuff and presents it in a very simple reading format. Just the content.

But why is that useful? Well, RSS becomes useful when you use a feedreader. A feedreader, or a newsreader, is a program that lets you subscribe to the RSS feeds of all your favourite websites. Then when you want to spend time reading, you visit your reader and see everyone's updates in one place, instead of having to visit all those websites and blogs individually. For those who use Facebook, you might be familiar with the news feed. Instead of visiting everyone's wall to see if they are doing anything new, you can see everyone's latest updates, all in one place.

So if you've never used a feedreader before, let's get started now.

There are lots and lots of newsreader programs, some are programs that you install on your computer, and some are web apps that you access with your web browser. The one we will look at today is Google Reader. I'm going to assume you have a Google account of some sort (you already have one if you are using Google+), if you don't you can sign up for one here:

Now visit Google Reader. If you haven't logged in yet, it will ask you to do that. In the top left click the little button that says "Add a Subscription". It will bring up a field for you to type in a website you want to subscribe to. Type in and click "add". Voilà! All of our latest posts will show up in your reader. On the left hand side you can see a list of all of your subscriptions, and can add or remove them as you like. You can also group them into folders so you can manage your different interests.

Any website where you see that little orange RSS icon, you know you can add it to your reader. You can either subscribe to them like we did above, or you can just click on the icon. Let's give that a go now.

Why don't you visit my friend Kristy's Blog, and click on the orange RSS icon at the top. You'll see a page that has her latest posts, and a "Subscribe Now!" box with lots of different methods for subscribing. Click the little Google button in the subscribe now box, and then click the blue "Add to Google Reader" button. "The Imperfect Mum" blog will now be in your subscriptions and you will see those updates mixed in with the Visual Obsession updates. Keep going and add all your favourite websites and blogs, so you can keep track of all your favourites in one place. Here is a great video that explains more.