RSS - What the Heck?

Posted by: Jessica Sprague

Tagged in: Untagged 

Jessica Sprague
If you visit more than 2 blogs a week, and you've never heard of RSS, you really should read on:

RSS actually stands for "Really Simple Syndication", and it's basically this:

Your favorite blogs (yay! including us right here at!) have a feed, which is basically all the new posts or articles on that blog or site, constantly updated and broadcast out into the ethosphere. It's a little like a radio station. And just like tuning in to your favorite radio station to hear NPR or Pearl Jam, you can subscribe to the blog's feed to have new articles delivered to you.

So, how do you subscribe? And how is the feed delivered? And how is that better than just going to your favorite blog and reading it in its original version? Ah yes. Good questions. Read on for a quick 4-step guide to RSS: {...}

To subscribe to a feed (and to read it after you've subscribed), you'll need a feed reader, or reader for short. This is a software application that you can either download or access online, that is designed to capture a feed, remember it, and fetch new posts for you.

Step 1: Grab a Reader

My favorite (and I think probably the hands-down favorite, especially if you use Gmail) is the Google Reader. You can log in with your Gmail account, or set up a Google Reader account, and then you can access your Reader web-based, no matter what computer you log in to. I mainly love the Google Reader for 3 reasons:

  1. It is clean and simple
  2. It suggests feeds you might be interested in based on others you have subscribed to
  3. You can click on an RSS feed button and Google recognizes it, and automatically asks to add it to your feed reader.
If you don't love Google, or if you have a Yahoo or AOL account, you can also add RSS feeds to your home page. If none of these feels suitable, check out the dizzying array of options listed in this RSS Toolbox article from Mashable.

Step 2: Locate a Feed

Here is where the whole radio station analogy kind of falls apart. Because instead of tuning in only to your single favorite radio station, now you can tune into 10, or 100, and have them all waiting for you to select which tasty morsel you want. So now we need to tune in to a few different feeds. This process is slightly different depending on if you have a smart application, like Google Reader, or whether you have to copy and paste the URL. But both ways are fairly painless - especially if you know Photoshop. This is CAKE compared to that! ;)

So locating a feed - basically you're looking for an orange button, that might look like this:

Or it might just say RSS on it, or it might even be a simple text link that says Subscribe to our RSS Feed! 

Step 3: Subscribe

Now we need to add this feed to our reader. Let's take my blog for example. Here's my little RSS feed button, over on the right-hand side of my blog:


If you have Google Reader, and you click on this, you'll get a new window that asks you to add the feed to your Reader.


Click, and you're done! Love me some Google. Simply move on to the next blog you want to subscribe to, locate its feed, and click on the button.


If you have Yahoo or AOL or any of the other applications that ask for a URL, you'll need to copy the URL and paste it into your reader application. 

1. Right-click on the button or link (or cmd-click if you're on a Mac).
2. Select Copy Link or Copy Link Location from the flyout menu. This copies the URL for the feed onto your computer's clipboard. Like so:

3. Switch over to your reader (let's take Yahoo for example), and click the link to add an RSS feed to your home page. You'll end up with a field that is asking you for a URL. Good thing you have one ready to go! 
4. Right-click (or Cmd-click)  inside the field and choose Paste from the flyout menu to paste in the URL.

5. Click the Add or Subscribe button.

6. Rinse and repeat these steps for EACH feed you want to subscribe to.  (And also refer back to why I love Google Reader)

Step 4: Read

Now you can simply visit your reader to find out all the latest, rather than "making the rounds" of the blogs you visit every day. Let the blogs come to you! :D With Google Reader, I added a new Firefox tab (go to Tools > Options > Main) to automatically launch a new tab with my Google Reader in it whenever I launch Firefox. Quick and easy. :D

If your daily routine involves clicking on all your bookmarked blogs to check for new content, you'll love RSS. You can go to one central place (your RSS reader), and it'll show you all the new stuff from ALL your favorite places, all in one interface.  

So, feel like giving it a try? Here's a Self-Check exercise! Click here to subscribe to the RSS feed!

Comments (11)add comment
Kari Holt
Kari Holt: ...
Love me some Google, too! And love that I can add my Google Reader to Viigo on my BlackBerry for the same access on the go smilies/grin.gif Oh, I {heart} technology!!!!

April 22, 2009
Sharyn Law-Davis
Sharyn Law-Davis: ...
I have been using another RRS reader but am off to check out the google one. Fab explanation also - thanks Jessica.

April 22, 2009
Jana Holden
Jana Holden: ...
Now that's easy-peasy! I heart this technology too! Now, to Facebook or not to Facebook, that is my next dilemma!
TFS the explanation Jess!

April 22, 2009
Stacey Kinney: ...
Thank you so much - I've always wondered how to do this & now I know. You are so techno-smart!!

April 22, 2009
Kate Fortune
Kate Fortune: ...
Have had you on my Google Reader for some time Jessica and I think it's brilliant, I check all my favourite blogs on there and saves me having to go into each blog individually. Love it!

April 22, 2009
Sue Pfeffer
Susan Pfeffer: ...
Aha. I have been wondering what RSS was. I'll have to give it a try.

April 22, 2009
Louise Roberts
Louise Roberts: ...
Thanks Jessica. Again you have awakened me to the wonders of technology and I'm no off to get me some RSS now. Thanks

April 23, 2009
Donna Fleischmann
Donna Fleischmann: ...
Jessica, you are easing me into the tech world and I absolutely love it! Since I started taking your classes I've learned so much and gained so much confidence! I even have my own blogs now! Thank you!!!
Donna smilies/smiley.gif

April 23, 2009
Julie Knotts
Julie Knotts: ...
Oh! This is so helpful! I've been wondering how that worked! Thanks for always sharing little tidbits!

April 24, 2009
Sheila Greeenaway
Sheila Greeenaway: ...
Okay, I am subsribed! Thanks for such a great explanation of what and how!

April 26, 2009
Jane Davies
Jane Davies: ...
I've been using google reader for some time now, but I didn't realize until now that I was subscribing to RSS feeds! smilies/cheesy.gif

June 28, 2009

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