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RSS Feeds are a great way to stay on top of the latest news and postings made to blogs and many other websites and services.
If you've not heard of RSS, or don't know exactly what it is, that's ok; you're not alone. It still suffers from a fairly high geek factor.
But I'd strongly recommend getting at least a few of the basics down because it's a very powerful technology that allows you to get the information you want delivered to your virtual doorstep.
And I recommend using Google's free Reader to view the RSS feeds you've subscribed to.
Each morning when I fire up my computer, I start my email, and I fire up Google Reader. In the reader, I have subscribed to many, many different RSS feeds and each morning I get to see all the new items that have been posted to those feeds.
What's a feed? Well, to use Ask Leo! as an example, I have several feeds: one feed, the most common kind, has the most recent items posted. If you subscribe to that feed, then each time a new article is posted on Ask Leo! it automatically shows up in your feed reader. Another is a feed that contains newsletters only, which shows RSS as an alternative to email: you can subscribe to the newsletter feed, and get the newsletter in your feed reader each week automatically - bypassing email and all the spam-related issues that might interfere with deliverability.
What other kind of feeds are there ? A few examples: CNN has, quite literally, news feeds. Top stories, most recently posted stories, and more. Many local news outlets also provide similar feeds; here in Seattle one good example is local TV and Radio station KOMO. Many technology sites have feeds. Many humor sites (Dilbert.com, I Can Has Cheez Burger - the home of LOLCats, for just two examples). And many, many more.
In fact, almost every blog has an RSS feed, including sites that you might not think of as blogs, but are built with blogging software (again, like Ask Leo!). In most cases, you need only look for an RSS icon () on the websites home page, or in your browser's address bar.)
There's a lot more power I haven't even touched on. For example, I regularly use RSS feeds to keep abreast of new mentions of my name, or my wife's business on the internet.
The bottom line is that for every feed you subscribe to, new entries or posts to those feeds are automatically displayed in your feed reader without any work on your part, other than firing up the reader.
I recommend Google Reader as the tool to use to stay on top of your RSS feeds. There are others, but particularly when starting out, Google Reader is easy to use, ubiquitous, and of course free. Should you build up a long list of subscriptions and later decide to move to a different reader, you can easily export your list into a standard file format called "OPML" that you can then import in other readers.
Even though it's great for just starting out, you may not leave - I didn't. Google Reader is one of the few web-applications that I use, and I do use it daily. I tend to prefer PC-based applications, but in this case Reader simply works better for me as I move between computers.
Its interface is simple and easy to use. Subscribing to feeds is easy with just a click on a site's RSS indicator, or by manually entering the URL of an RSS feed.
Feeds can be easily tagged and organized, which I find incredibly useful. Yes, I do subscribe to I Can Has Cheez Burger, but it's tagged in such a way to group it with other "fun" things so that I can prioritize where I spend my time appropriately.
So create yourself a Google account. If you have GMail, then you already have one. Then the next time you see that RSS icon on a site you'd like to stay on top of, click it, subscribe, and start using Google Reader to see what's new.
There's a good chance you'll quickly get addicted and be looking for RSS feeds whenever you surf.
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