RSS feeds

I made my first website when I was about 20, back when altavista, angelfire and ICQ existed, and blogs and templates didn’t.  The html was write-your-own.  My 7yr old brother helped a lot, but nevertheless.  I mean to say, I’m no technological idiot (neither savant), but the concept of RSS feeds escaped me for so long that I’m just gonna share this super simplified explanation of what they do for anyone else like me that missed it.

They are especially useful for following blogs like this one, that don’t post with a predictable rhythm. Hint hint.
So.  An explication:

RSS is a form of “syndication”.  Like subscribing to a magazine.  It will come to your mailbox, instead of you having to look out for the new month’s copy in the grocery checkout line.  If you subscribe, to say, someone’s blog, then whenever they add something new, you will get their new post without having to click to visit their site.  Genius. It’s the evolution of Bookmarks.

Any site that updates its content, like a blog, or news site, can offer syndication, so anyone can subscribe to its content. What you use to subscribe is called a Feed Reader.  Your feed reader of choice will know what’s new on any of your subscribed sites, and it will gather up the new posts and offer them to you in a batch, so you don’t have to click through your bookmarks or god forbid, use your memory.

THE symbol

If you use Firefox, then any site you’re on will have the symbol in blue right in the URL line (on the right end) if it offers RSS.  If you hover it says “subscribe to this site” and may have a couple options.  I can’t help you with the options.  I pick the one with the bigger number, it always works.   Then to see the new content of the sites you’ve subscribed to, you can click the orange RSS symbol to the left of the URL line to access your feed reader and voila!  All the new posts from Squawkfox, the weekend’s Postsecrets and news from the Sea Shepherd come up together, in series.

Firefox’s feed reader is called Brief.  It handily lets you navigate out into the source websites themselves, if you don’t want to just see the latest.  I’m not personally familiar with how Google Reader works, it may gather the new “feeds”and send them to your email.  RSS is universal, too, not to be confused with Following in Blogger, or the like in Yahoo and Google, which is a kind of profile-dependent networking.

So a one click subscribe, and then opening the feed reader to see what’s been updated.  I love it.  When I find a blog I like but clearly they post erratically, I just subscribe, and I know that whenever the mood strikes again, be it a month or six, when they do, it will pop right up.  I won’t miss a thing.  And then the constant churners-out of information, like PuckDaddy, I know will be grouped, so I can easily scan for something interesting to me, say when a Canadian team is still in the playoffs, or ignore,  say if there are no Canadian teams left.

Now, if you want to offer RSS, you’re probably already on a platform that does it automatically,  or it’s a widget to add, and it will be very easy.  People may already be subscribed to you.  Whenever you update or blog, then they know that, immediately. RSS is ubiquitous, but wow did it ever take me a long time to grasp it.

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