Guide to Using RSS Feeds

RSS makes it easy to stay up-to-date with your favourite websites. You can identify content you like and have it delivered directly to you.

 

What is RSS?

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. An RSS feed is simply a list of items, each containing a headline, description, and a link to a web page.

Websites provide RSS feeds so you can subscribe to their content and receive updates automatically.

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How can I start using RSS feeds?

To view RSS feeds you will need an RSS aggregator, more commonly referred to as a 'reader'. The reader checks the feeds you are subscribed to and displays any new content. This means you don't have to check individual websites for updates - the reader does it for you. Typically a reader will automatically check for new content every hour.

Each feed is treated a bit like a folder in an email program, with a number in brackets next to the name of the feed – this shows how many new stories there are.

Feeds seen within an RSS reader

When you click on a story, you see the headline, a brief summary, and a link to the full story.

Stories within a reader

Depending on which reader you use, when you click the link, it either opens a web page within the reader interface, or opens up in your web browser. Some RSS feeds provide you with the full story so there is no need to visit the website.

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Where can I get an RSS reader?

There are hundreds of RSS readers available on the Internet, and the majority are free to download and use. Broadly speaking, there are three types of RSS reader.

Desktop applications:

Desktop RSS readers are fast and easy to use. You install them onto your computer like any other program. Free readers include SharpReader, FeedReader, RSSReader, and Omea Reader.

Web-based readers:

Free websites like Bloglines and NewsGator allow you to log in and check your feeds, a lot like web-based email accounts. Use a web-based RSS reader if you want to be able to check your feeds from any computer in any location.

Web browsers with built in RSS readers:

The most recent web browsers have RSS readers built in. The latest versions of Mozilla Firefox and Apple's Safari both have native support for RSS feeds, as well as version 7 of Microsoft's Internet Explorer.

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How do I subscribe to an RSS feed?

To subscribe to a feed, you need to add it to your reader. Find a website that provides a feed that interests you (for example, Hemscott's financial news feeds). The standard way to indicate a feed is with an orange icon like this:  Firefox RSS feed icon

Additionally, feeds are often indicated by an orange icon with white text on it, that states "RSS". For example:  RSS icon

Sometimes the button has "XML" written on it, or simply "Site Feed".

Clicking the icon will open a page of unformatted text (the RSS feed).

A typical RSS feed

To add the feed to your reader simply follow the instructions provided for your chosen RSS reader. It will automatically keep track of your feeds and inform you when they are updated.

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Viewing RSS feeds on mobile devices

Because RSS is so simple, it is possible to view RSS feeds on PDAs and other mobile devices in the same way you would on your computer. Depending on what type of device you are using - a PDA, BlackBerry, mobile phone, etc - and how old your device is, this can be relatively easy or quite difficult. Consult your instruction manual to see if you can subscribe to RSS feeds on your mobile device. Usually third party software must be downloaded to provide RSS compatability.

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