I think RSS is great. I have been using RSS to keep in touch with what’s new at my favourite web sites for about 2 years now. It’s convenient, saves you lots of time, and is actually quite easy when you get the hang of it.
You’ve probably seen the acronym RSS on web sites. Sometimes it’s beside a little orange icon, like the one at left. Sometimes the words “Subscribe to this feed” are placed beside it.
If you’re curious, you may have clicked on the link and been taken to a weird-looking page, where most of the same content was displayed again but without the pretty formatting. Something like the page below.
That’s what happened to me the first, second and third time I clicked on the link. I scratched my head, felt stupid and left.
It took me a while to get the courage to go back and try it again, but since it’s my business and I am a research hound, I had to learn about it.
So I picked a morning where I wasn’t feeling pressured for time and typed the word I type most often into Google: “tutorial”. This I followed with the letters RSS.
I probably had to read about 10 articles before it started to make sense to me and I felt comfortable enough to try and set it up. Now I am a complete RSS addict, and I hope you become one too.
So here are my “Coles Notes” style cheat sheets on how to use RSS.
What is RSS good for?
To explain it simply, RSS is a way for you to find out when your favourite web sites have been updated – and even better – have these latest articles collected and displayed for you to read all from one spot.
It’s like having your own personal assistant whose job is to cut and clip out the latest articles from your favourite sites, arrange them all for you in an orderly fashion, and place them on your desk waiting for your imminent arrival. Now how handy is that?
How does it work?
You don’t need to worry about what it stands for or how it works. There are tons of articles explaining that if you are interested. What you need to care about is how to make it work for you.
The first thing you have to do is set up an account with a news reader, sometimes called news aggregator. It’s pretty easy; the hardest part is choosing the one you want because there are lots of good ones out there.
There are 2 types of readers: 1. those that are actual little programs that you download to your hard drive and run from your desktop, and 2. readers that run off the web. I suggest starting with the latter because they are free and don’t require a huge investment from you. Popular ones to try are: Google Reader, Bloglines, My Yahoo and NewsGator.
For the sake of clarity I am going to only talk about how to use the Google Reader. This is the one I started using a few months ago, and am quite happy with. Since then it has become super popular. It doesn’t hurt that everyone knows the Google name either.
First thing you have to do is sign up with the Google Reader. Go to google.com/reader.
The “Sign In” area is on the right (see A). If you have a Gmail account, or Google account all ready, you can use that login and password to sign in. If you don’t, there is a link under the blue box (see B) that says:
“Not using Gmail or other Google Account services? Create an account now.”
Click on that and fill out the few requisite fields. That’s it – you now have a reader. PS. Don’t forget to save your password.
Subscribing to your fave sites.
When you’ve signed up with your news reader, you then need to let it know which are the web sites you want it to track. That’s called “subscribing to the web site’s feed.”
There are a few ways to do this. If you are on a web site that you like, first you have to see if it offers RSS feeds. Not every web site does yet, but most news sites do as well as all blogs.
First you have to find the feed. Look for the standard orange button like the one above, or a feed labeled ‘XML’, or ‘RSS’ or Atom’. Here are some examples:
Sometimes there will be a button specifically for your particular feed reader – like Bloglines or Google Reader. These are called chicklets (Ew. Don’t blame us – we didn’t name them) and there are quite a few to choose from.
Some browsers, like Safari and Firefox, will show the orange symbol right in the address bar, to the right of the URL of the blog you are on. See below.
Go ahead and click on any of the above. What will happen next depends on what browser you are using or what type of feed the web site is using. (Oh, why is oh why is it never easy?)
For example, you might actually get a Google page, like the one below, that asks you to answer one of 2 questions – do you want to “Add to Google Home Page” or “Add to Google Reader?”
When you click on “Add to Google Reader”, the web site is added to Reader.
If you are using Google Home Pages (we won’t go into that here because it will make this article super long) you might prefer for your feeds to show up there.
Sometimes you won’t get a Google page, but a powered by Feedburner page, like the one below. If you do, just click on the Add to Google chicklet.
If you got one of those weird unformatted pages (the first image in this article,) just copy the URL of the feed that appears in the address bar, to the left of the rss icon. The feed will look like a web site URL but most likely it will start with “feed://” instead of “http://.”
Go to your Google Reader account page (below) and paste the URL you copied into the Add Subscription field – look for the green section in the left menu bar. You click on the “+ ” (plus sign) for it to open.
With the Google reader, you can also just type the URL of your favourite web site – for example www.strangeduck.com/blog – into the Add Subscription field, and it will go to the site and find the feed by itself.
That’s it. Now go ahead and fill it up with your subscriptions. All your subscriptions will appear on the left in the blue column under the green section.
How to use the Google Reader.
Since the Google Reader is web-based, you can access it from any computer that is hooked to the web, as long as you have your login and password with you.
Every time you log in to your Google Reader, it will search all the sites you’ve subscribed to and check for any new articles that have been uploaded. If it finds some, these new articles will appear in the Google Reader, in the main space to the right of the blue column, in chronological order.
You can read the articles right from the reader. Google has done a great job of allowing images and even videos to appear in the feed.
Sometimes the site only provides partial feeds, which means you may have to go the web site to read the complete article. Click on the title or the link that says read more or read complete article.
And that’s it for now. Go ahead and try it out.
Here are some things you can use RSS to do :
- Spy on your competitor’s sites and see when they’ve been updated
- Get the latest Travelocity deals
- Get the latest buzz from Yahoo
- Track the latest job updates from Workopolis or Monster with RSS
- Get Canadian Business Online and Canadian Business, MoneySense and PROFIT magazines updates
- Track the most recent videos that were added to Youtube
Pretty useful, huh?
Let me know if this article helped you out or if sections are still unclear. Just use the Comments field below, or send me an email.
And while you are at it, why don’t you subscribe to the Strange Duck Blog’s feed? I will be giving lots of other cool tips on how to save time and make the web work for you.
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