Despite being around for years, RSS and Atom web feeds have managed to stay below the mainstream radar; a quick poll of my tech-savvy friends proved this to be the case. This article explains what web feeds are, why you care, and how best to take advantage of them.
What are web feeds? According to Wikipedia:
A web feed is a data format used for serving users frequently updated content. Content distributors syndicate a web feed, thereby allowing users to subscribe to it. Making a collection of web feeds accessible in one spot is known as aggregation.
What’s the Benefit?
The benefit to the user is step 3 of the syndicate->subscribe-aggregate chain. Using a web feed reader, you can aggregate all of your favorite sites together on one screen, browse new headlines, and then read the content that interests you most. In my feed reader, I aggregate feeds from 38 different site; I can browse through the entire list of new headlines and read the articles that interest me in less than 30 minutes. If I were to visit each of the 38 sites individually, it would take hours.
What’s the Best Web Feed Reader?
I’ve tried different web feed readers over the years, including: My Yahoo!, News Gator, and the Sage and Wizz RSS News Reader add-ons for Firefox, but none of them every impressed me as being great, with each having their own shortcomings. Then I found Google Reader; it makes all of the others obsolete. It has a clean interface, is fast, is accessible from any computer, highlights new content, is easy to navigate, has a great summary page, uses the terrific Google search algorithms to find the feed you’re after, and it’s free. Click the thumbnail above to see a screen shot.
How Do I Subscribe to a Feed?
If you’re not using Google Reader, the subscription process goes something like this: go to a site, look for an RSS link in the page or an icon () in the location bar (if your bowser is new enough), click on the link/icon, copy the resulting page location (while ignoring the mangle of XML code on the page), and then paste that feed location into your feed reader. Then, you’d be ready to aggregate. But with Google Reader, all you have to do is type the website name into the search box and it takes care of the rest. That alone, plus the other features listed above, make Google Reader the best way to digest the most information in the least amount of time.
Unfortunately, not all sites include all of their content in their RSS feed. Some of the better sites on the internet, such as Gizmodo, offer advertisement-free summary feeds or ad-supported full feeds. I wish all sites did this. Unfortunately, sites such as AntsMarching.org (feed link), and this other site (feedlink) offer only summary feeds. I find this very frustrating, especially since neither site has advertisements. And then are site like RemoteCentral.com that don’t provide any feeds at all. Truth be told, I find myself spending less time on sites with no (or lacking) feeds because, without the feed, there is nothing to pull me in.
In conclusion: if you find yourself going to the same sites/blogs for info updates and news, go to http://reader.google.com, sign-in, and search for the site by name. Most likely, you’ll soon be browsing your news in a whole new way.