Wouldn’t it be nice if you could view all of your favorite blogs in one place and be notified when they post new updates? It sounds too good to be true, but you can.
An Introduction to RSS
RSS, which stands for Rich Site Summary (or Really Simple Syndication), is a technology used on websites to allow readers to subscribe to the latest content available. This stream of new information is called an RSS feed. To subscribe to an RSS feed, you must use an RSS reader.
Here’s the definitions you’ll need to understand:
- RSS – Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication
- RSS feed – A stream of new content that is posted on a website (new articles or blog posts, for instance)
- RSS reader (or feed reader) – The tool that website and blog readers use to suscribe to and read an RSS feed
How To Start Reading Blogs With An RSS Reader
The first step is to sign up for an RSS reader. Google Reader is one of the most popular feed readers available (and it’s free). If you have a Gmail account, the signup process is as simple as entering your email credentials at the link I provided.
It would be impossible to cover the signup process for the wide variety of RSS readers available, so this article makes the assumption that you can complete this step without my help. However, I will use screenshots for Google Reader below.
If you have successfully signed up for Google Reader, you should see a page that looks like this (click to enlarge):
Subscribe to your first RSS feed
In Google Reader, there is a red ‘Subscribe’ button in the left sidebar. Click this button. A box will pop up below the button that says “Enter a search term to find feeds or paste a feed url.” Do not worry if you do not know the feed URL – Google Reader is pretty smart and can automatically find the feed URL for most domains. Just enter the normal URL of the website you’d like to receive updates from.
After you have entered the URL, click ‘Add’.
If Google has successfully discovered the RSS feed, your reader will refresh with the content of the feed in the right column. In the left column, two things should have changed: ‘All items’ should be bold because you have 10 unread posts. At the bottom of the left column under ‘Subscriptions’, the title of the site or feed should be red with a (10) beside it.
Google reader automatically pulls in the 10 most recent posts when you subscribe to a new feed. The only way this number will be lower is if the site does not have at least 10 new posts.
What if Google Reader doesn’t find the feed?
In rare cases, Google Reader may not find the feed you are looking for. Or, perhaps, you don’t want every update from the site, but just the updates from a particular category. In these scenarios, you will need to find the direct URL to the RSS feed. Here’s how to do that:
1. Look for the RSS icon
Many blogs and websites use an orange icon to link to their RSS feed. It will probably look something like this (though typically smaller):
Find this icon and click on it. It will take you to the raw RSS feed that looks similar to this:
If the website has an RSS feed provided by a third-party service, you may also land on a formatted page that you can read. Either one is fine; but be prepared to see code like I’ve posted above.
2. Copy the feed URL
When you find the RSS feed, copy the URL from the address bar of your browser window. Here are two examples of feed URLs:
3. Paste the URL in the ‘Subscribe’ box in Google Reader
As in our previous step, paste the direct feed URL into the ‘Subscribe’ box in Google Reader. Your reader should refresh with the most recent items from the feed URL you entered.
A Few Things to Note
You can subscribe to as many blogs or websites as you wish in Google Reader. However, not every website will offer RSS feeds (though this is fairly uncommon). Also, once you have Google Reader set up, you can connect your account to many deskop, tablet and smartphone applications. In most cases, you will only need your Google credentials to make the connection.
Using an RSS reader is a great way to increase your productivity. Rather than visiting several websites per day, you can view content from all of them in one place.