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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 (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.

"There's a good chance you'll quickly get addicted and be looking for RSS feeds whenever you surf."

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 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.

Article C3424 - June 23, 2008 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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9 Comments
Jim
June 23, 2008 7:19 PM

I prefer the Bloglines reader to Google Reader at this time. Google seems too busy and Bloglines is still a cleaner interface. May be too tech-y for someone new to RSS, and it requires no software on your PC either.

Kyle
June 24, 2008 9:10 AM

So funny! I just recently subscribed to you in Google Reader and checked it a few days later, only to find this post at the top! I'm one step ahead of ya! :-P

Bucky
June 25, 2008 7:17 AM

"For example I regularly use RSS feeds to keep abreast of new mentions of my name, or my wife's business on the internet." I started using Google Reader to try and do this for myself, but haven't figured out how, can you give more explicit instructions? Thanks!

Leo
June 28, 2008 9:48 AM

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It's not *just* google reader. What you do is use a site
like, say, http://google.com/blogsearch to search blogs for
a specific phrase you care about. Say "Leo". On the results
page for that search will be an RSS feed that you can
subscribe to for those search results. Subscribe to THAT
feed in Google Reader, and each time the results change,
the updates show in the Reader.

Google Blog Search is one example of a service that provides
results in RSS. Others include Technorati, Windows Live
Search, Google News and others.

But that's the key: find a search or news update tool that
provides results in RSS, and then subscribe to that RSS feed
in Google Reader.

Leo


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Leo
July 9, 2008 4:21 PM

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For those interesting, I did a new article as a more
in-depth answer to that previous comment:
http://ask-leo.com/how_do_you_keep_track_of_new_mentions_of_yourself_on_the_internet.html

Leo


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Ziggie
July 9, 2008 5:11 PM

So how do you get Firefox/Google Reader to stop asking if you want it on your igoogle page or in reader? There's no default button that I could find.

Is there one?

Leo
July 10, 2008 9:25 AM

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Not that I've found. I just click "Reader" each time.

Leo


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Kerry
September 7, 2011 11:05 AM

I never really looked at RSS because when I first did, it seems to me that RSS data was being written to your PC, and therefore chewing up disk space. I decided it would be too much of a hassle to try and manage all the data (and I don't like to keep alot of stuff on my PC besides apps, as almost all of my files are on and duplicated over slim portable HDs). I may be wrong as this was awhile back, but a web based reader certainly eliminates that problem. I might end up giving RSS another chance via Google Reader. Thanks Leo, I learn something every week from your newsletter.

onwufuju chris
November 30, 2012 3:18 PM

Nice and helpful

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