What is an RSS feed?

With so much new content on the web added daily, it can be tough to keep up with what’s happening online. There are several different ways people try, including visiting specific websites every day, doing Google searches, or relying on social media to keep them informed. One solution that sometimes gets overlooked is an old-school one: The RSS feed.

What is an RSS feed? It’s a technology that has influenced many modern internet tools you’re familiar with, and its streamlined, algorithm-free format could make it your next great tool for reading what you want online.

What is RSS?

RSS stands for “really simple syndication” or, depending on who you ask, “rich site summary.” At its heart, RSS refers to simple text files with necessary, updated information — news pieces, articles, that sort of thing. That stripped-down content gets plugged into a feed reader, an interface that quickly converts the RSS text files into a stream of the latest updates from around the web.

As internet content became more complex, so did RSS files, quickly adopting images, video, and more, but still in a stripped-down format for more effortless loading and compatibility across all feed readers. Readers usually automatically update to deliver the newest content right to your device. This approach allows internet users to create their online feeds filled with custom updates from the sites they like to visit regularly.

I thought RSS was kind of old. Is it still used online?

Yes and no. RSS feeds are certainly still present (more on this later), but they aren’t as dominant as they once were. Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and others have become the go-to option for following sites, watching feeds, and learning about the latest content. Other online options (such as Google News) simply aggregate full links to the latest stories, with algorithms to pick out stories you may like.

Interest in RSS feeds has gone down over the past several years. Online brands already have to post to social media for their marketing goals, and they may not want to take the extra time to convert content into a bunch of RSS files. This added effort is why a new blog or website may only offer subscription content by following them on social media, but no RSS feed. Google doesn’t even like to support RSS feeds anymore, and Google Reader is a long-dead endeavor. However, RSS feeds still have their place.

How can RSS feeds make my life easier?

Feedly

RSS feeds remain great for an in-depth look at a site’s new content — not just the stuff that gets pushed up on social media. If you are genuinely devoted to a site and want to see everything it has to offer, then an RSS feed is still the best way to make sure you don’t miss anything. While this doesn’t work well with all sites, even large ones like ours can compartmentalize the feeds, giving you better access to only the content you want. It’s an excellent alternative to social media if you just want the news and articles without all the baggage that comes with having a Twitter or Facebook account.

Additionally, RSS feeds are often very easy to read at your leisure and will update even if you are not online — they are particularly useful for catching up on the news during your downtime. As such, RSS feeds have grown into a beneficial tool, thanks to the emergence of well-crafted mobile apps that act as feed readers.

What are the best feed readers?

There are many different kinds. However, some of the most popular include:

Feedreader

Feedreader is a simple, minimalistic reader that makes curation easy with basic categories and accessible tools. It has a fantastic preview option to see what an RSS feed looks like before you sign up, and it gives alternative options if you decide you don’t like that particular feed.

Feedly

Feedly can be used for entertainment and professional purposes (for example, following competitors and keeping up on industry news). It has a simple interface with basic categories to collect individual RSS feeds and a home page filled with the latest news from everywhere. Feedly is currently one of the most popular feed readers online, although it was the victim of an attack in 2014.

Flipboard

Flipboard has won admiration for its beautiful design that looks particularly good on mobile devices. It’s an excellent choice if you want a more organic, e-zine-like way to peruse the latest news from your favorite sources.

The Old Reader

It might sound antiquated, but The Old Reader name is merely highlighting its simplicity. While it still enjoys some social elements, its core function is bringing you an easy to parse and organize news feed with support for tablets, desktops, and mobile devices.

The future of RSS

Flipboard Interest

One of RSS’s most convenient uses is to help you stay on top of your shopping list. If you’re looking to purchase a specific item from Craigslist, such as a refrigerator, you could enable an RSS feed to send you notifications when any new posts are pushed to that category. 

To do this, just navigate to the feed you want to save by typing in your search terms. Once there, scroll to the bottom of the page, then click the button in the bottom-right corner that lets you subscribe to that list.

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However, you should know that as RSS solutions become more specific, they may move away from internet browsers altogether. There are already signs of this happening: In late 2018, Mozilla announced the end of native RSS support for Firefox 64 — no one was using it, and it wasn’t worth the effort to maintain. 

Other browsers could follow suit, making RSS feeds much rarer than they already are. However, for dedicated fans, extensions and add-ons should still be able to add RSS qualities to your browser, as they currently do with Firefox.

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