RSS 101

I’m a recent convert to RSS (don’t ask me why it took so long). And seeing as how I’ve only just found the joys of loading my RSS reader with feeds, I figure there are plenty of other people who don’t know the kinds of benefits to be reaped from becoming an RSS fanatic.
We’ll start with an analogy–using RSS is like subscribing to a local newspaper. When changes are made to the newspaper (think daily newspapers), those changes are delivered to your doorstep in printed form. You can even subscribe to several different local newspapers at once, all of which will have changes, and the changes will be delivered to your front door. You don’t have to go out; they come to you.

That’s how RSS works. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. From a user’s perspective, it’s a simple way to collect updates from blogs, news articles, and other online content instantly and to a single location. From a publisher’s perspective, it’s a simple way to publish updates to blogs, news articles, etc. instantly and in a standard format for users to read.

Basically, it simplifies things. No more bogged-down bookmark bars with the blogs of all your friends, immediate family members, and distantly-related cousins. No more checking the Times for the latest articles. It’ll all come to YOU.

Enter Google Reader. There are plenty of RSS readers out there (you can even use Outlook if you’re married to your exchange server), so you might want to do your homework. Honestly, I started with Google just to play around with it, and haven’t found anything I really dislike. So Google Reader it is (for now).

First, find the feed you want to subscribe to. If you click on a “Subscribe to RSS” button on any web site, you’ll see a new window open up with a new URL. Copy that URL to your clipboard (CTRL + C).

The second step is logging in to Google Reader. Once you’ve logged in, you’ll see an environment that somewhat resembles an email inbox.

On the left, you’ll see a button to Add a Subscription:

Just paste in the RSS feed obtained from your source. In this case, I’m using “spencerbean.com/feed”, the feed URL for this blog.

Once you’ve subscribed to a feed, it’ll show up in your list of subscriptions:

You’ll see I’ve got quite a few, arranged by folders. To manage your subscriptions and put them into folders, click on the arrow in the top right corner of the subscription panel:

I won’t go into the details there–hopefully it’s pretty self-explanatory.

One last tip (personal preference, really): Change your Show options from Expanded to List. You’ll find this option in the top right corner of your browser, just below your Google account name, settings, etc:

Changing it to list will show only the title of each new RSS feed item that comes in. It more closely resembles a Gmail inbox.

You’re all set to go! Now, any time something comes in from that feed, you’ll see it in your “inbox” area. And if you have multiple feeds, they will always come in by date and time, with the newest on top. Simply click on the title from the “inbox” area to read the post.

If you want to go to the actual article on the actual web page, click on the two arrows next to the title:

You’ll notice that some articles in your RSS reader may not contain the full text. That’s just a ploy on the publisher’s part to get you to actually visit the web site. In those cases, you’ll almost always have to follow the RSS article to the actual article by clicking the double arrow button.

And that’s RSS in a nutshell. In other posts, I’ll show how to browse for feeds you might be interested in. Check back for more posts.

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