July 22, 2007. I suspect since I first wrote this page a couple of years ago, most Internet users are now at least somewhat familiar with 'RSS' (Really Simple Syndication). There have been various flavours of RSS the past few years but the current trend is towards RSS 2.0. All feeds are XML files. RSS 2.0 feeds have two parts - an introductory section and a section that contains a list of items. Unless you plan on writing a feed, you really don't need to know all the ins and outs.
You can think of RSS in a couple of ways:
- If you are providing information (via a web page, podcast), RSS is a technology that feeds information to subscribers.
- If you are a subscriber to a 'feed', RSS is a technology that allows you to receive updates of content.
Why Use RSS Technology?
RSS for subscribers is easy to use - you get your new or changed content from web pages all in one place. With RSS, you can go to your reader, update, and read the new content.
Ready to see what RSS is like first hand? Before you subscribe to a 'feed', you will need to choose your RSS reader (also called a Newsreader or Aggregator) in order to read the RSS Feeds. Readers come in two flavours:
- Web-based (browser-based) service - you open your browser, go to the web page and read your feeds there.
- Software - when you are online - you open the software so it can download your feeds. You can read the feeds online or offline.
There are a number of readers available - some are free and some are not. Google Reader is very popular now. Decide what features you want and then try one. Even those that are not free usually offer a trial version. I have been using FeedDemon (Software) and really like it. Software readers are quite fast. The image to the right is a screen shot of FeedDemon. It has 3 panels that can be resized just by clicking and dragging the edges of the panes. The panel on the left shows the various feeds in the Channel Group; it also has a section for 'Watches', 'News Bin' and will show other items as you wish. The third panel is the built in tabbed browser which you can maximize, have it show along the bottom or the right side. You can also hide the browser or have the news item open in an external browser. In this screen shot, I have open the Lab with Leo blogs channel - you can see the items listed in the middle panel and the right panel is showing an item that I had clicked on to read (actually to watch in this case).
Subscribe to a Feed
Once you have a reader, the next thing is to subscribe to a feed. This is very easy to do. The most common way to find a feed is to look for the orange button (the colour is usually orange) on the web sites that you browse. This is now the standard icon for feeds. If no feed is detected on a web page, then the feed icon will not show in the browser. More and more people are using feeds now to get changed content to their readers.
Once you have found a feed, you will want to get it into your reader. Each reader is a little different but the basics are the same. If you see a feed icon on a web page, click on the icon. That icon is a link to the feed. You then simply need to get the URL or address for the feed into your reader. You can do a copy and paste - copy the URL from the feed and paste it into your reader. Often times, the software will automatically pick up the URL when you have copied it to your clipboard - FeedDemon does; in fact, it will pick up the URL as soon as you click on the orange RSS button. Getting the feed into your reader is likely the easiest thing to do. Once you have a reader and subscribed to some feeds, you are off to the races! You can have all your News, Blogs, etc. in one place.
July, 2011. I still use FeedDemon as my RSS reader - I have FeedDemon on both my desktop and laptop computers. I also set my iPod up to enable me to check my selected feeds on that device. I often use my iPod to check my emails and then check my feeds to see if there is anything new.
Placing RSS Feeds on a Web Page
You can also use RSS feeds on a web page. There are a few reasons for wanting to do this - in my case, I want to provide current news on my web pages. If you have looked at my Home Page, you will see I have News feeds from CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). These are updated on a regular basis via the feed. The image to the left is another feed from Yahoo - 'Internet News'.
Until the last few weeks, the word 'podcast' didn't mean too much to me - I certainly had heard or seen the word several times but I didn't really know what a podcast was. A podcast is an RSS feed with multimedia enclosures - audio, video, still images. Until 2004, it was only text that was syndicated. A podcast doesn't always have an affiliated web site.
The ipod from Apple has made the podcast mobile. Apple has a software called 'iTunes' which is the most popular audio and video podcast aggregator or reader. Podcasts (currently free) are available through the iTunes Music Store. I purchased a video iPod about a month ago and I have subscribed to some podcasts (computer related) via iTunes - the software has a podcast directory. Once you open the iTunes software - it checks to see if there are updated podcasts for the feeds you have subsribed to and the software then proceeds to download the podcasts. Once the downloads are complete, you simply hook up your iPod to your computer (via USB port) and then 'sync' your iPod with iTunes. If you have deleted some podcasts from iTunes - these are deleted from your iPod and the podcasts that were just downloaded are transferred to your iPod. You can now listen to the podcasts on your iPod via earplugs or an iPod speaker. (As an aside - I can listen to my Old Time Radio Shows (mp3 files) via my iPod and speaker which is great - I don't have to be at my computer to hear them.) A lot of people listen to podcasts on their commute to and from work.
There are other podcast readers available - just do a search for 'podcast readers' and check them out. You can also do a search for podcasts - just type in 'podcast directory' and you will find thousands and thousands of podcasts (various categories) you can subscribe to. Have fun choosing those you think you would be interested in - you can always unsubscribe from the feed if you find the content isn't what you really want.
If you wish to write your own feeds - there is lots of information available via the Internet or books. This web page is just to 'wet your appetite' so to speak. I have left a great deal of information out as I am no expert in RSS but I wanted the visitor to at least be aware of what is available in the world of 'RSS' feeds.
Whether you are the producer of feeds or the subscriber to feeds - take advantage of this technology.