After you understand what RSS feeds are and how to use them, it is time to load up some feeds in an RSS feed reader to make them work for you. Using the technology behind how RSS works you are able to grab the information from hundreds of websites as soon as it is posted to the web. This puts news and information at your fingertips moments after it becomes available for consumption.
Collecting all of the information from various websites and news sources is done through an RSS reader. RSS readers can be stand alone software installed on the computer, or it can be a web tool that collects the information into one place for you to visit and consume.
RSS Reader Software and Web Services
Software that is installed on the computer usually provides a simple, yet full featured interface. The downside is that you won't necessarily have that software available on all the machines you might use to access the Internet.
By using a web tool you are able to eliminate the problem of trying to get to your custom RSS feeds from public computers or multiple computers at work and home. Any computer that can connect to the Internet will be able to access the feeds that you set up from any other computer.
It seems like it only makes sense to use an online tool to read RSS feeds, but here are some of the advantages to using software installed on the machine. By having an installed RSS reader constantly checking the feeds you will be able to see when there is something new to read. Most reader software will have a system tray icon telling you how many new stories are available when you sit down at your machine. With online readers you have to go to a website and load up the page to see if anything is new. There is usually much more customization on how the information is displayed when using installed software as opposed to online RSS feed readers. In my experience, managing feeds have always been easier with reader software rather than web solutions.
RSS Reader Recommendations
Here are some popular reader software suggestions. They are all free. For Windows there is FeedDemon which has all the normal RSS reader functionality and adds in support for synchronizing with Google Reader (the recommended online RSS reader tool). For Mac, NetNewsWire has the same basic feature set as FeedDemon along with the Google Reader integration. For Linux I have always used Akregator. It seems there used to be Google Reader synchronization available, but with a recent change in the way Google Reader worked, the feature has been pulled out.
For an online reader, there is one that has captured the market and become the dominant player. Are you surprised that it is Google's product called Google Reader? You can go to reader.google.com and sign in with a Google account to start using the free service.
One of the other advantages of using an online RSS reader like Google Reader is that it is compatible with Windows, Mac or Linux.
Beyond the installable software mentioned above, there is a completely different type of RSS reader: browser extensions. It is possible to get a browser extension for Firefox that is multi-platform. I have not tried one recently, but my experience with several different ones in the past has kept me away from even looking into the category today.
How to Use the RSS Reader
You need to subscribe to an RSS feed so that your RSS reader can grab the information when it is available. When visiting a web page that you want to read in your RSS reader, find the RSS feed icon. It is usually a square orange icon with curved white lines (representing radio or satellite waves). Depending on your software, clicking on the icon, or right clicking on the icon will allow you to add the RSS feed of the website into your feed reader. Some websites will have an icon that will let you add their feed directly to Google Reader with a single click.
Here is how to do it specifically with Google Reader. Log into Google Reader using your Google account information at reader.google.com. If you know the website's feed address you can simply type, or paste it into the "Add a subscription" box at the top left of the Google reader screen. If you don't know the address, you need to look around on the page you want to subscribe to for their (usually) orange and white RSS icon. Right clicking on that will let you copy the link address which you then paste into the subscription box. Stand alone software will have something similar.
If you are not able to find an RSS feed icon readily, there is usually one at the very top of the page, or at the very bottom. It may not be the standard orange and white RSS icon. Look for something that says "RSS Feed" or "Atom Feed." If you are using Firefox as your browser, it should automatically find the RSS feed for you and put an orange icon in your address bar. You can click on that icon and it will subscribe you to the feed reader you have either previously selected, or give you a choice of which reader you would like it to use for subscriptions.
If you are still unable to find the RSS feed icon, here is a tip that will let you subscribe to a blog if it is running WordPress as its blogging engine (the most popular blogging platform today). In Google Reader (or your RSS reader software) type in the full address of the website and then /feed/. For example, if the website is http://www.example.com, you can type in http://www.example.com/feed/ to subscribe to the feed. This only works with WordPress based blogs (as far as I know). But WordPress is so dominant, there is a good chance it is a trick that will work for you.
BONUS TIP: Maybe you want to subscribe to information about a topic, but don't know what websites talk about that topic. You can type in your topic term in the "Add a subscription" box in Google Reader and it will present to you websites that cover your topic which you can subscribe to.
This should get you up and running with RSS feed readers.