The Internet is a big place. Really big. With over a billion existing pages and thousands more being created each day, there’s a lot of great sites with a lot of fantastic content out there. But with such a massive torrent of media being produced each day, it can sometimes be hard to keep up with all your favorite sites. So how do we alleviate this problem? The answer is simple — really simple in fact. Here’s a really simple explanation of Really Simple Syndication (RSS).
What is RSS?
RSS is a notification system that alerts you when updates are made to your favorite sites. It allows content to be sent to your computer without you having to seek it out and visit an actual website. Think of it like TiVo, but for the Internet. Essentially, the Internet is like TV, but with a zillion different channels to choose from, so rather than channel surfing for hours on end, you can use an RSS aggregator (more on this in a minute) to organize all your favorite content in an easily accessible format. Like TiVo, you just tell it what you want to record, and it sends it to your computer for later viewing.
How does RSS work?
Rather than paying upwards of 100 bucks for a DVR like TiVo, you can start using RSS for free — all you need is a Internet connection and a program called an RSS aggregator. An RSS aggregator, also known as feed reader, is a program that runs in the background and constantly waits for your favorite sites to post new content. When something new pops up on a site you’re subscribed to, it gets sent to your feed reader instantaneously. Typically, aggregators come in two varieties; they can be Web-based or desktop-based. There are also a number of programs and add-ons that give RSS functionality to e-mail clients and browsers. Once you’ve installed a feed reader, you can get started.
How do I use RSS?
There are hundreds of aggregators out there, with all kinds of different interfaces and useful features, so finding one you like is just a matter of experimentation. We recommend starting with Google Reader, simply because almost every other aggregator you can find out there is capable of syncing with it, so if you find another program you like better, you can easily import all your feeds. Plus its Web-based, so you can access it even when you’re not at your home computer. Once you have an aggregator (aka feed reader) installed, you can start subscribing to your favorite sites. Generally, you’ll know if a site supports RSS subscriptions if it has an orange icon that looks something like this . These days, you’re likely to be hard pressed to find a site that doesn’t support RSS. Most sites have buttons that you can click to receive updates on Twitter or Facebook, and the RSS button is often located right next to these.
RSS tips and tricks
If you’re using Google Reader, there are various browser extensions that make subscribing to feeds a snap. Google Chrome users can use this extension, while those who favor Firefox can use this, and Internet Explorer fans can install this to add one-click subscriptions to websites.
For power users
RSS can be used for more than just news, music, and videos. Sites like Craigslist and eBay support RSS subscriptions to specific categories of services and items. Looking for a fridge, a welding job, or a three-bedroom apartment? Just type in your search terms and scroll to the bottom of the page. At the bottom right, there should be a button that allows you to subscribe to that list of classified ads, and be alerted when any new posts are published.
In summary, RSS is a fantastic way to organize and consume the Web with increased efficiency and ease. If you do most of your reading on the web, a sturdy RSS reader is a must-have. Also, be sure to check out Digital Trend’s RSS feeds for some of the best content on the Web!
This article was updated July 6, 2012, to reflect new and updated RSS-related software and technology.