Do you wish you didn't have to click through your bookmarks or refresh all your favorite sites from memory just to see if there is new content? Wouldn't it be nice if all your Google Alerts, blogs, and favorite sites published their content in one inbox customized by you? Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds do exactly that. This article, aimed at the average web user with little technical background (like me!), will show you why and how you can simply set up your own RSS Feed Reader.
Here is a picture of my RSS Feed Reader, Feedly (which I neither profit from nor am affiliated with in any way--I just like their free service):If I want to read the article that my headline refers to, I click the headline and it opens the article right there, without visiting the site. When I'm done, I tap "esc" on my keyboard and it goes back to my list of headlines. If I don't want to read something, I click a little "X" that appears when my mouse hovers over; if I want to share something, I click the thumbs up button, and if I want to read it later I just don't click it because it will still be unread next time.
Besides centralizing new content from your favorite sources, RSS Feed Readers allow you to share articles, receive shared articles, and link up with your favorite social networks (like Twitter, Facebook, or Google Buzz). Did I mention you can also create an RSS feed for a craigslist search (local or nationwide)? You can keep an eye out for that recumbent two-person tandem bicycle too.
Things You Will NeedFirst, you will need some websites you like. I like Lifehacker.com, I read some blogs from competing advocacy groups such as cato.org, I am subscribed to some youtube channels, and I have some Google News alerts.
Second, you will need an RSS Feed Reader. Google search for "RSS Reader" and you will find plenty of options. I recommend you choose either Feedly (my preference, at feedly.com) or Google Reader (my backup, at reader.google.com). Choose Feedly especially if you like to customize your browser with add-ons (such as Feedly). Once you sign up with your Feed Reader account, you are ready to populate it with sources.
Third, you need to take the websites, blogs, and posts that you like and "subscribe" using your RSS Feed Reader. For example, in the image at the CATO Institute website, you can see in my browser address bar the little blue RSS Icon. If I click that, it'll subscribe me to CATO. Alternatively, if you click the RSS Logo that a site provides, it will often have different options for you to choose. If we do that from cato.org, then it brings up the page I have shown here, listing all their different feeds. You can subscribe to any or all of them.
Depending on how much content is on a website, and how savvy the administrators are, you may or may not get options for RSS Feeds. The beauty of Feedly is that you can subscribe to sites where no Feed exists, and share content from them as well, just using buttons that appear in your address bar on the browser.
Subscribing to Google News
Let's say for a job or hobby that you need to keep tabs on daily developments in a given industry and have a good couple of search strings you put into news sites every day. We'll pretend I'm a celebrity figurines manufacturer and I want to be the first to make figurines of the latest Lady Gaga stunt so I just do a Google News search for "Lady Gaga". Try it. Run a search at News.Google.com then scroll to the bottom and click the RSS Button. You are now set to receive Lady Gaga news every day for life (uhoh, you have problems). You can perform this operation on as many search strings as you like. If it gets old, then just delete the source from within your Feed Reader, usually under a "preferences" or "configure sources" tab.
Subscribing to a Craigslist Search
Just as an example, I typed "estate pipes" into my local craigslist. As you can see from the screenshot, there is an RSS button on the bottom right of the page. Clicking that will subscribe me to that search, so I will see in my RSS Reader anything matching my query that comes up on my local craigslist. If you are interested, I can write at a future date about how to setup a nationwide craigslist and eBay search for hard-to-find items like disc golf targets and free bicycle tires in good condition.
Why I prefer Feedly: The toolbar that follows you everywhere you browse is super convenient because it shares, bookmarks, or posts on your social media profiles. Feedly's interface is also more intuitive to me than Google Reader, so I am able to use it without thinking. I recommend Feedly for any novice.
Tips & WarningsTip 1: While you may use another RSS Reader like Feedly, it will often use your Google Account. Sometimes I have to go to my Google Reader to make certain changes that I want to affect my account in Feedly, if I cannot find the option in Feedly. For example, when I want to follow and share articles with an individual I gchat with, I'll usually set that up through Google Reader and from then on will receive articles/twitter/whatever my friend shares (viewing it in Feedly).
Tip 2: Don't go hog wild when you first start using RSS. I made the mistake of subscribing to too much and quickly got bogged down, which defeats the purpose. RSS the important stuff. Everything that you need to visit when you are bored can stay out.
Warning: Some sites configure their feeds to only show you the first paragraph of any entry. They do this because they want you visiting their site so they can get money from advertising, count your visit, and get you to look at more content on their site.
I hope you start using RSS to simplify your web browsing, easily share content with friends, and stay up to date on your industry's news and events.