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When you first start blogging, you may hear your designer, or other bloggers talk about “RSS” or “RSS Feeds”

The short explanation is;

RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is a format that allows content (such as blog posts) to be opened and read by various different programmes which are called “RSS Readers”.

Examples of popular RSS readers include:

  1. Google Reader
  2. Net News Wire
  3. Many email programmes
  4. Netvibes
  5. Even online apps like Facebook could be considered Feed Readers, or at the very least, Feed Deliverers!

Why would you want to use an RSS reader?

Surely you can just visit the website to see if there is new content? Yes absolutely. If you’re reading one or two blogs a day, of course you can go and visit to see if there is new content.

That’s the way that most bloggers start out. But what if you are a business, and you’re monitoring a hundred competitor websites? This is where it starts to get tricky.

Maybe you’re a photography buff, and love keeping up to date with the latest trends in wedding photography from around the globe. That’s a lot of blogs to try and remember to visit!

It is so much easier, to have one place where you can immediately see new content right in front of you.

It saves you time and bandwidth, because you can go directly to sites that have updated content ready and waiting in their RSS feeds.

How do I add an RSS feed to a feed reader?

Perhaps you’ve seen an icon similar to this one – on your favourite blogs?

Many RSS icons will be built around a similar theme to the one you see pictured here on the left.

In fact sometimes designers like to see how inventive they can be with RSS and other social media icons, so that they are designed around a theme matching a websites look and feel.

Here are some more examples of what a websites RSS feed icon could look like:

 

Okay, now I know what they do, how do I subscribe to my favourite blogs?

Let’s start with probably the most widely used RSS reader, which is Google Reader.

Go to www.google.com/reader . If you don’t already have an email address associated with google, go ahead and associate either your current email address now – or create a new gmail address for your Google Account.

(Note: having a google account is free, and gives you access to a whole range of cool apps and services)

Now, the next time you a are reading a blog you’d like to subscribe to, take a look and see if you can see their RSS icon. Click on it – and it will pop open a window and ask you if you want to subscribe.

Choose the option closest to “Subscribe using Google” – incidentally there you will also see a whole list of possible RSS readers that you can use to subscribe to your favourite blogs.

I use Google Reader to manage all my feed subscriptions, but I tend to prefer using NetNewsWire on my iMac, purely because it can sync with Google Reader – and offers me a better, more visually appealing way of arranging my feeds into sections or folders. Also, since it runs like a native app on my iMac dashboard, I can automatically see what my feed count is (number of unread feeds or new blog posts waiting to be read) similar to email, without having to open my web browser. (Newsify is a great iPhone app for the same purpose).

Since RSS is mostly used to speed the delivery with which your readers receive your updated information (new blog posts) they tend to err on the side of minimalism. Meaning that when you read a blog post via an RSS reader you read it in the most basic way possible, without viewing the website in it’s entirety. This can save you a lot of time, if you want to see what the post is about, before clicking through in order to leave a comment. However, some blogs only send truncated posts or ‘previews’ of their blog post, meaning that you will have to click through to read the post in its entirety or at the very least to see it the way the author intended, with all the right formatting and picture widths etc.

So each time you want to see which blogs you’ve subscribed to have updated their entries – you just simply log into your feedreader of choice in order to catch up. Easy right?

If you have any questions regarding subscribing to a blog using an RSS feedreader, please don’t hesitate to leave your question in the comments box.