RSS feeds – updates from various websites delivered directly to you

March 29th, 2012 by Monika Jankowska-Pacyna

RSS feeds, often represented by big orange icons on websites, are convenient, time-saving tools that help deliver content to website users.

What makes them unique is that instead of the user going to different sites, the content is brought to the user.

For example, a teacher interested in new resources or activities who regularly visits multiple websites to check if something new is posted, could instead subscribe to RSS feeds from these sites and automatically receive updates whenever new information is added. These updates would be delivered to the teacher’s feed reader or news aggregator, a tool that organizes and displays summaries from various feeds.

So what is RSS feed?

RSS (most commonly known as “Really Simple Syndication”) is a family of web feed formats used to publish frequently updated works – such as blog entries, news headlines, audio, and video—in a standardized format.

The user subscribes to a feed by entering into the reader the feed’s URL or by clicking an RSS icon in a web browser which initiates the subscription process. The RSS reader checks the user’s subscribed feeds regularly for new work, downloads any updates that it finds, and provides a user interface to monitor and read the feeds. An RSS document (which is called a “feed,” a “web feed,” or a “channel”) includes full or summarized text, plus metadata such as publishing dates and authorship.

Web feeds benefit publishers by letting them syndicate content automatically. They benefit readers who want to subscribe to timely updates from their favourite websites or to aggregate feeds from many sites into one place.

Many news sites offer RSS feeds. Also hundreds of thousands of bloggers, podcasters, and video bloggers publish feeds to keep themselves better connected to their readers, listeners, admirers, and critics. Apple, through its iTunes Music Store, offers tens of thousands of audio and video podcasts for download, each of which is powered by a feed.

How do I get RSS feed?

If you have a website, a blog, audio/video content, or even photos, you can offer a feed of your content as an option. If you are using a popular blogging platform or publishing tool like TypePad, WordPress, or Blogger, you likely publish a feed automatically. Even other non-blogging sites like the social photo-sharing service Flickr offer feeds of content you produce that others can retrieve. There are also tools on the market that can help transform traditional web content into the right format for distribution.

There are also third party tools, such as Feedburner, that help you improve the RSS delivery and results. AlphaPlus uses this tool as it helps us group content together and track statistics, for example, how many people subscribe to our feed.

RSS Feed Readers

RSS feed can be read using software called an “RSS reader,” “feed reader,” or “aggregator,” which can be web-based, desktop-based, or mobile device-based.

Subscribing to RSS feeds

You can subscribe to RSS feeds in various ways, for example:

1. Google Reader

Google Reader is a free and easy-to-use web-based reader for RSS feeds. It allows you to gather feeds in one place, organize them into groups and quickly scroll through the updates without having to visit multiple websites.

To learn more, visit Google reader tour

Join us on April 17, 2012, at 2 pm ET for a webinar on Using Google Reader to manage your RSS feeds.

2. RSS folder in Microsoft Outlook

If you scroll down through a list of folders in your Microsoft Outlook email, close to the bottom you will find the RSS Feeds folder. You can simply right-click on it and choose Add a New RSS Feed to set up a new feed.

3. iGoogle

iGoogle is a customizable home page that contains a Google search box at the top and your choice of any number of tools, called gadgets, below. It includes an Add a feed or gadget section that allows users to quickly subscribe to RSS feeds and display them on the iGoogle page.

To see how RSS feeds are used in the field, explore our Employment Ontario Partners’ Gateway (EOPG) website uses RSS feeds article.