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.
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