Thing 8 2013: RSS Feeds

What are RSS feeds?
RSS (Rich Site Summary – often called Really Simple Syndication) is a web feed format that provides the full text of web content together with links to the original source.

Why use them?
Although RSS feeds are losing favour with some people, who prefer to use Twitter, Facebook, etc. to stay up to date, RSS feeds save you time and energy by bringing together articles and information and allowing you to read them in one place – the information comes to you! Many websites and blogs allow you to set up RSS feeds for their content. RSS feeds are also commonly available from databases which allow you to subscribe to feeds for journal articles on a specific topic. In this way you can be alerted whenever new content is added to your favourite websites or when a new issue of an e-journal is published.

RSS feeds are also useful if you run your own website. We’ve provided a link on this blog, for example, to an RSS feed that lets you subscribe to our content.

To set up RSS feeds, you need to sign up to a feed reader or aggregator – software that checks RSS feeds and displays updated content. There are many available. Free web-based readers, e.g. Feedly, let you check RSS feeds from any computer whereas downloadable desktop clients, e.g. FeedDemon, let you store them on your own computer. Many tools have apps and sync to the cloud, so your feeds are up to date wherever you are. You are free to choose your own; we used to focus on Google Reader, but it shut down earlier this year, allowing numerous ‘new’ contenders to pop up. Some options:

  • Feedly: A really simple and easy to use tool that has lots of sharing capabilities (send to email, save to Evernote or Pocket, tweet or send to Facebook, etc.)
  • Digg: A ‘social’ news aggregator that also provides RSS capabilities
  • Tiny Tiny RSS: Good for DIY types – requires a bit more work and you have to set it up on your own server, but allows lots of customisation and doesn’t depend on other services
  • Pulse: A very visual, magazine-like RSS reader
  • Newsvibe: A simple, pared down reader without all the extras

Here at 23 Things, we’re most familiar with Feedly, and it’s certainly one of the popular choices – but feel free to try any others (and please report back on what you think if you do).

Most blogs and many websites will allow you to subscribe via RSS, even if they don’t have a specific button or link for it. Many web browsers will offer a subscribe button up in the address bar or the bookmarks menu. If you don’t see a subscription link, copy and paste the feed’s URL into the ‘Add Content’ box or ‘Subscribe’ box in your reader.

You should aim to subscribe to at least five other feeds. You may want to add some of the other 23 Things bloggers, or perhaps your favourite news blog or site.

Exploring further

  • Explore tools that allow you manage subscriptions. In Feedly, there are options at the top and bottom of each item that allow you to save, share or tag the item. You can also use the ‘Personalize’ option (in the left-hand column) to categorize your feeds. Managing your categories can be particularly helpful if you subscribe to a large number of feeds.
  • Add an extension to your browser to make subscribing to feeds even easier. Try this one for Chrome, this one for Firefox, and this one for Internet Explorer.

Blog post
Do you view RSS feeds as a useful tool in keeping up to date? Do you think you will use them in future? Tag your post ‘Thing 8’.

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