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Why Aren’t You Using RSS?

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Chances are, you’re not entirely sure what the point of RSS is. I saw that little orange icon in Firefox, I’ve also seen their “live bookmarks” feature, which just looks cumbersome, and just never thought it could be helpful to me. Now, I wouldn’t live without it. Here’s why.

If you’re like me, you have a ton of sites bookmarked or on your favorites list, depending on your browser of choice. That browser should be Firefox, by the way, but that’s beside the point. You may have evolved and developed a list of maybe five, ten, fifteen sites you check every day to “stay in touch.” RSS is a way you can be MORE in touch — with a higher number of sites — while doing less work.

Here’s what you do. Get an RSS reader; I’m using Sage for Firefox right now. There’s a search button in the Sage sidebar that searches for feeds of the site you’re currently reading (feeds are XML documents that provide updated content from a particular website).

Let’s say you’re reading a blog and you enjoy the writing, so you want to check in on it regularly to read new posts. Great, it turns out this blog has a feed to enable this, as do many ordinary websites and online publications.

If you click on the feed URL (in the case of a Blogger blog, it’s the URL with “atom.xml” after it) you will see a messy document you can’t read, but your RSS reader can. That document is updated each time a new post is saved to this blog. Your RSS reader pulls down that document and shows you each post’s title — and “marks as unread” any new ones you haven’t seen yet.

In fact, the RSS reader pulls all your feeds when you click “Refresh” and highlights the ones with new content. In one button-click and about 30 seconds of refreshing, I can tell that (as an example) there is new content on two of my friends’ blogs but not four others, new articles on four online magazines I read but not six others, etc. Just in that example, there are ten websites I no longer have to open!

For the ones with new content, I click the feed name and get a list of all the articles, with unread ones highlighted. I can read any of the unread content I wish by clicking on the article title, and the article pulls up in the main browser pane on the right. Once done, I click “mark all as read” and move on to the next feed. If you select your feeds well — specifically, blogs that focus on topics you are interested in, where the blog author frequently links to news articles about the topic, as it is his or her passionate area of interest — you can have a handful of blog publishers doing a lot of your research for you.

As an example, I keep up with several of my favorite musical artists this way. I subscribe to active blogs about them, which link to as many band-related news articles as they can find. This is, literally, the best thing since sliced bread. And heaven knows I love sliced bread, so that’s saying a lot.

So now you know what RSS is, and how to use it. Be off, get yourself an RSS reader, and stop visiting any blog when there’s nothing new to read.

From Blog and Tan.

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About JP

  • There are many ways to read blogs via RSS.

    You can just load all your RSS feeds into your blog reader. But why not
    prescan you blogs into categories, and throw out content that doesn’t fit. This is what services like Feed Distiller do.

  • I want to congratulate you for such a nice write-up on RSS and i was so very late in reading it out until i decided myself to look for RSS content.

    thanks much and a question would be.. i’ve seen many autoblogs stealing feeds via RSS (wordpress RSS plugins does it all) and showing away only the excerpt along with tonnes of ads to make money for them.. even though its on auto pilot.. where is user base coming from? i m not sure if spiders are crawling to autoblogs via RSS feed links? can you help answer this question of mine.

  • Toni

    I was one of those people whos husband went out side the marriage and had sex with another woman and to add insult to injury, had a baby on top of that. If you are not sexually satisfied then leave and be with that person who satisfies you. That is a really hurting feeling. So be there done that.

  • It%5C%27s+a+great+and+valuable+site%21+

  • Jason

    Is it just me or does Start.com not work on Opera?

  • Danielle

    What’s this ’bout??

  • MongoKansas67

    Unless I missed someone’s comment, nobody mentions the excellent little firefox extension “feed view” in which rss feeds can be viewed just like looking at a webpage. For example Yahoo Top Stories: can be viewed on one page in firefox, find a story thats interesting, open it up in a new tab, in fact I got folders after folders of rss feeds, which can easily be opened, for example ALL of yahoo news feeds can be opened at the same time “open in tabs” and then go through each one and read the articles. I will never live without FEED VIEW!!

  • Any tips on getting Firefox to work?

    I downloaded the full version of Mozilla, and my computer kept crashing. Could that be the problem?

  • bend

    What about Google Personal Home page?

    I pipe all my RSS feeds in here (not to mention a gmail account). It’s better than any reader I’ve tried.

    Looks pretty much like start.com

  • Bliffle

    I’ve been using an ancient copy of Sharpreader, which seems OK, and I can use keyboard strokes instead of the mouse. Using Firefox, for the tabs, switched from Opera just for a change (anything is better than IE). Still use MIRC for IRC on the few occasions I IRC, but it looks like old IRC servers are gone or something. FWIW.

  • I’ll tell you why I don’t use RSS: no value. There’s 40 sites in my morning news menu which is nothing more than a folder in my FireFox bookmarks. When I want to read the news, I click Morning -> Open in tabs, and all the sites are there. Why would I want trimmed-down versions of the articles when I can just go to the site in the same amount of time? I think RSS is just for people who don’t know how to use the software they already have effectively.

  • I stumbled on this reader, and have tried most over the last two years or so:


    Before you flame me for suggesting a Microsoft Beta product, give it a whirl first.

    Finally, a reader that will show the feed, graphics and all, and appears to use an AJAX interface (or MS’s Atlas) for quick and easy use, very configurable, and view most feeds at a glance. However, if you’re the type that reads hundreds of feeds per day, this reader probably isn’t for you.

  • JP

    Paul, I like yours also, and wish I’d read it earlier. That said, I think you provide too many options for a novice – given the high degree of jargon involved. My approach was to describe the features and benefits using a simple, useful aggregator and let the user discover others once hooked.

    As for reader type, I’ve got a few feeds in Google Reader that I can access from home or work, with my existing Gmail account info, but I find web based readers take too long for me to use as my primary reader.

    Oh, and OperaFan–not increasing Opera’s profile among the hacker community is EXACTLY why I didn’t recommend it. Really, I’m looking out for you. 😉

  • Great article, but I still feel that this article was much more comprehensive:

  • Personally I love the Live Bookmarks in Firefox. I wrote a tutorial for users new to live bookmarks and RSS:

    I tried Sage, and didn’t like it much. To me, just having quick access to the head lines is enough, and hence Live Bookmarks are sufficient.

    BTW: don’t break the web, remove nofollow attribute from your links. If you worry about comment spam, hand moderate. Don’t punish genuine links with a badly thought out idea.

  • Opera Lover

    The default setting in Opera -which I’ve kept- is for it to pretend to be MSIE. Would your stats see thru that? (pathetically hoping to beef up my ” almost 2% ” crowd)

  • Opera Lover

    and email too.. don’t want Outlook.. Thunderbird kept jamming up, worse than Firefox.. must say I do feel uneasy about being spoiled rotten by Opera.. all my eggs in one basket.. almost all internet activity in one re-arrangeable window.. I’d never have got RSS going without having blundered into it. Maybe later, when I understand a thing or two, I could move on.. where to? Maxthon? That has its Swiss Army Knife uses right now – IE engine – and vv fast..

  • Sitemeter says only 47% of our readers are using MSIE, but it isn’t clear what period of time that’s for. Internal stats put that number closer to 54% over time.

    Still, Opera is used by almost 2% of our readers, which is only in fourth place, behind MSIE (54%), Firefox (37%), and Safari (5%).

  • i’m sorry, but microsoft has made the word ‘integrated’ seem a whole lot less sexy than it used to be.

  • Matias Gonzales

    Also, Opera has done alot more right than Firefox, take a look at the most popular Firefox extensions. Those are all INTEGRATED into Opera. I just use Firefox because I like the icon. 😀

  • Matias Gonzales

    Since when did we become too lazy to type in a url and actually visit the page?

  • woa…i just checked the browser share page for bc. firefox is up to 50%.

    the two flavors of ie are down to 37% combined.

  • Great work, JP! You got all three of the Opera users to post comments!

  • H

    Firefox ? come off it, Opera is the best web browser, bittorrent client, irc chat client, ftp client, rss reader, + more

    But I can’t recommend it. You guys stick with your 1337 firefox

  • NewzSpider is news aggregator that is great for beginners. Give it a try!

  • Don’t you tell me what browser I should be using! Opera has a built-in RSS reader, and Google has a web-based reader that works with all browsers.

  • Hey this is a really cool introudction. If anyone is interested in writing an RSS feed in PHP check out
    my URL!!

  • Eric Olsen

    super job JP, many thanks!

  • OperaFan

    I personally recommend Opera’s RSS reading features (99%of you are now asking what opera is). I know none of you use it, and i frankly hope it stays that way so no one bothers writing viruses/hacks for it.
    Don’t try it and dont recommend it to your friends, just admit that it is cool and continue to ignore it.


  • On a related note, does anyone have any experience of using Radio Userland? It looks like it could be a lot of fun…

  • I use Bloglines to reed my RSS feeds. I have over 175 feeds subscribed and love the service.

    I’m effectively creating a highly personalised library of good stuff, all conveniently stashed in one place at no bandwidth cost at all.

    The other great feature is the ability to create unique email addresses to subscribe to ezines or newsletters and have then show up as if they were feeds too.

  • JP

    Looked thru that link Scotty posted (thanks again!) – I had no idea there were so many readers! Google Reader is another one you can play with, esp. if you have a Google login already. I find it cumbersome and slow by its design, but you can access your feeds from anywhere using that or one of the other online ones (Bloglines is a popular online reader).

  • Okay dude. Will try Sage since you specificly think its better.

    I tried to use an external RSS reader but it wasn’t as convenient. Also tried som in the Firefox and found that uncomfortable as well.


  • JP

    Pratyush – For one thing, I don’t think Live Bookmarks identify which articles are “new” and which ones you’ve already read correctly (last I read there were bugs). I might suggest adding a couple of “live bookmarks” and loading the Sage extension with the same feeds, and see which you like better. Sage is easily removed, just uninstall the extension and remove the “Sage Feeds” folder from your bookmarks, nothing to it.

    Scotty, thanks for the additional links!

  • Bliffle

    Live bookmarks? I’ve gotta try that.

  • scotty

    Nice summary of RSS and it’s use for the novice blogger. Good job on the review. Here are a few good links about RSS to provide readers some more detail….

    Introduction to RSS
    Decent list of Feed Readers
    Some Freeware Readers over at our sister site

  • When there is live bookmarks in firefox why do you need another software for it inside firefox?

  • Bliffle

    I’ve been using RSS for a couple years, but there are still sites one must cruise with the old browser, either because they’ve not implemented RSS yet, or because their implementation is clumsy.