Not sure what RSS is? It’s okay to ask. 

We spend a lot of time on this blog advocating the use of RSS: fun ways to use it, why it complements social media networks, why it makes online reading easier. The list goes on.

But we haven’t spent much time explaining what RSS actually is.

One of the biggest obstacles RSS faces is that many people have no idea what it is or how it works. We often hear people talking about how difficult it is to keep track of all their tabs, web sites, or blogs, and how they wish there was a tool to help them manage the onslaught of content that has become a normal part of our everyday lives.

And that’s when we say, the tool already exists.

RSS Solves a Real Problem

Consider this common problem.

You like to follow a bunch of sites and check them regularly (either once a day or a couple times a week).

These sites could be anything:

  • News sites you use to follow current events
  • A list of favorite blogs you love reading in your spare time
  • A list of sites and blogs you use to keep up with industry news
  • A podcast you recently found online
  • A set of Google alerts you set up to monitor industry news

Let’s say you follow about 5 to 10 sites. On the days you want to check in with these sites, you get online and open your list of sites in tabs. Not a big problem, since you’re not following that many, but your tab count starts growing as soon as you start browsing.

You come across a cool site, which leads you to a new blog you’ve never heard of before, and before you know it, there are 20 more tabs open in your browser. By the end of it all, you’ve got around 60 tabs open and you don’t even know which ones you started out with.

Maybe you bookmark some of these new sites, but a lot of the time, you forget you saved them. Not to mention that you keep forgetting to go back and check the sites you do remember.

You start missing stories or important content.  And when you have time? You waste time opening up all the tabs you need and visiting all the different websites.

There’s zero control over the situation, and you do all the work. 

That’s where RSS comes in.

Cool! So…what is RSS?

RSS stands for “Real Simple Syndication”. In simple terms, RSS is a simple Internet technology standard that allows you to receive updates to web-based content. It simplifies the way we as readers can view and digest content from around the Internet.

You might have figured this out by now, but here is the basic idea:

You subscribe to an RSS feed and then, automatically receive new content. 

rssYou can keep track of new content without having to refresh the webpage or manually check the website. This is extremely handy for those of you who like reading different news sites and blogs, especially industry specific news that you need to check periodically.

If you want a more technical description of how RSS actually works, click here.

How to Use RSS

The first thing you’ll need to do if you’d like to start using RSS is sign up for a reader (like FlowReader). An RSS reader, also called a feed reader, is a tool you can use to subscribe to RSS feeds.

Subscribing to a feed is similar to subscribing to a magazine, only instead of getting delivered to your mailbox – new content is delivered to your RSS reader when a website updates. Unread items will appear in your reader as bold (like an email inbox), and you’ll be able to click on them and read them right there in your reader.

Here’s an example from FlowReader:

example-reader

RSS readers also allow you to organize your feeds by categories according to topic (or even reading habits), making it easier to keep track of all your subscriptions in one place. You can also visit the original source of an item by clicking on the title if you’re interested in going to the actual site.

To subscribe to a feed, you’ll need to look for the subscription button on the site you’d like to receive updates from. Normally, there is the new standard RSS icon:

feeds

Once you click on the RSS icon, all you need to do is cut or copy the page URL from your browser window and paste it into your feed reader’s subscription box. And you’re good to go!

The best way to learn how to use an RSS reader is to just try it out!

If there’s anything here that is confusing, or you have more questions, let us know. You can also share with us in the comments or on Twitter @flow_reader