What the heck is RSS?

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Many people who are new to blogging wonder what that orange symbol on the upper left corner of my blog is about. Not only is it on my blog, you’ll likely see it on every other blog you visit – and an increasing number of websites as well.

That orange symbol is the icon for an RSS feed. What the heck is an RSS feed you ask? The acronym RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. It is a way for you to subscribe to a blog.

Why would you want to subscribe to a blog?

Consider the blogs you currently like to follow. If you’re not using RSS you have to bookmark them and click on the link each time you want to see new content. After waiting for your web browser to load the page, you may discover that you’re not interested in today’s article or worse, there may be no new article.

Why is that a problem? It isn’t if you only read a small handful of blogs. On the other hand, if you subscribe to dozens or even hundreds (I know one person who subscribes to over 700) you don’t have time for that. It would take too long. RSS solves the problem.

In order to subscribe to an RSS feed you need an RSS feed reader. Your feed reader pulls new content from the sites you subscribe to. Instead of having to visit each site, you now have a list of all new articles. You can see at a glance which sites have new content and which articles you are interested in reading.

And RSS is not limited to blog posts. You can subscribe to music, spoken word recordings, video.

Feed Readers

Where do you get a feed reader? Most feed readers are free. You can download a feed readers and install it on your computer. I currently use Wizz RSS which is a plug-in for Mozilla Firefox, the web browser I use. I like it because it has all my RSS feeds down the left side of my browser and I can see at a glance when there’s new content.

The downside of Wizz RSS is I can only see my subscribed feeds from my computer. If I’m using someone else’s computer I can’t see my subscribed blogs. Since I rarely use anything other than my laptop, that’s not an issue for me. For people who work from an office as well as home, this could end up being a big drawback.

The big downside to Wizz RSS for me is that I don’t get all my new articles in one at-a-glance list. While feeds with new content are bolded, I have to click on each blog title to see the actual titles. I also get some slowing down of my internet connection when Wizz RSS is downloading new content.

An alternative is to use a web based feed reader. A popular one is Bloglines. It lets you access your subscribed feeds from whatever computer you’re on. While I’ve never used it myself, I understand you can also share feeds with other people and see what feeds others subscribe. If you want to experiment with subscribing to feeds do a Google search for RSS feed readers, pick one and give it a try.

Most blogs also offer an email subscription option. However, I you’re like me you already get too much email. I get several hundred emails a day. I did set up my email program to automatically send email newsletters to a separate folder so my inbox doesn’t look too full. But adding blogs to the pile of incoming emails would be overwhelming. That’s why I love RSS.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed about RSS, don’t be. The best way to get to understand this is to jump in and give it a try. Around this time last year I was subscribing to my first RSS feed. Now a year later I’ve subscribed to dozens of feeds, have my own blog and am able to explain RSS. If I can do it, you can too.

Andrea J. Stenberg

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