Understanding RSS Feeds and RSS Feed Readers

First let’s get technical real quick, but only when defining a RSS Feed. When referring to the web, a RSS feed is the type of format in which data is stored so users and subscribers can have access to specific updated content online. So by using RSS (Really Simple Syndication) people around the world are basically able to keep track of their favorite websites easily when they publish new content.

Okay, I have to admit, I am just now understanding the concept of a RSS Feed. Being a developer and having my own website gave me a general idea of what a RSS Feed is, but I was always a little confused on how to integrate it in to my website, or subscribe to other websites that have a RSS Feed symbol.

Go to a well-known website such as USATODAY or ABCNews and you will notice they utilize RSS feeds by displaying content from other websites. Websites like Digg, Pulse, Feedly, etc. do the same thing, offer feeds from other websites and usually allows users to customize what categories they want to see and which ones they don’t. A quick example, when I am on my iPhone, somewhere along the line it set Digg to save my RSS feeds, which I am completely fine with. All I need to do is select a website’s RSS feed and it will save it right there in my Digg account on my iPhone.

Is a RSS Feed still as popular today?

When I set out to figure out how in the heck this RSS Feed thing works, most of the articles I read were from earlier years like 2005, 2006, etc. Well you know how much technology has evolved over the years. I found many RSS Feed readers were discontinued, or on some sites, when I clicked to subscribe, it would just take me to a long page of code (I later realized this is because the main browser I use, Google Chrome, did not have a RSS Feed Reader built in to the browser!). Now for someone like me, who did not fully understand how RSS Feeds worked, it was somewhat discouraging. Well I don’t want you to feel the same way, I encourage for blogs and websites to implement a RSS Feed.

Placing a RSS Feed on your Website or Blog

There many different ways to place a link or button for your RSS Feed, just depends on what platform you are using whether it be WordPress, Blogger, etc. With that being said you may need a little html experience if your platform does not have a specific area where you can easily place your RSS Feed link.

Get your RSS Feed link to your website or blog from FeedBurner. FeedBurner is a website that makes the RSS Feed link for your personal website or blog and helps you manage it, plus it’s FREE to use. FeedBurner has been around since 2004 and still operates strong, I trusted them back then (did not know until years later I used them to set up a RSS Feed link for a website I did when I was in college!), and I trust them today. The steps to receive a RSS Feed link is very simply, they walk you through screen by screen, here is a print screen of when you’ve successfully created your link from FeedBurner:

 FeedBurner for RSS Feed Link

I use WordPress and my theme, Avada (I love this theme!), already came with a custom option for a RSS Feed button and location, all I had to do was insert my link I made from FeedBurner, and it was done. Just another reason I love WordPress and its simplicity! I tested my website on Google Chrome, Firefox, Internet Exporer, and Safari, all pulled up FeedBurner’s readers when clicking my RSS Feed button at the to of my website.

RSS Feed on WebJess

Tip if you need to insert a RSS Feed in WordPress with HTML:

Get a RSS Feed Picture you want to use for the icon
Add a new post
Insert the RSS Feed picture in to post
Set image link to the FeedBurner URL you received
Edit picture setting you want such as size (if it is a large image resize to a small size good for a button)
I usually click the “Open the link in a new window”
Save post as a draft
Click on the html tab
Copy the code
Go to your widget area of WordPress and grab a text layer widget to place in the sidebar where you want it to appear
Paste code in widget
Click save

These steps are easy and quick for those who are not too familiar with html!

Get a RSS Feed Reader so you can Subscribe

I took this list straight off of FeedBurner, this is a list of web-based news readers FeedBurner supports:
Bloglines (Now operated by MerchantCircle)
Feed Demon
NewsGator Outlook Edition
Universal Subscription Mechanism (USM) (Added this because it is listed by FeedBurner, but still unclear how this reader works)

If the website, like mine, uses FeedBurner, and you use one of the listed news readers above, you can easily subscribe by clicking the RSS button or link, depends on how the website displays it and it will take you to a screen where you can subscribe using whatever RSS Feed of your choice. If it does not have an obvious RSS Feed link or button displayed or if it supports a reader unknown to you, you can copy the URL, go to the RSS Feed Reader you use, then paste the URL into the designated spot of the RSS Feed reader so it will subscribe you. The image below shows all the different buttons/icons you may see displayed to represent a RSS Feed subscription button:

RSS Feed Reader

If you are wanting to subscribe by using your browser, some will allow you to such as Firefox or Safari, but Google Chrome does not from what I have discovered so far, weird huh. Make sure you’ve set your preference in the back end to use the RSS Feed reader of your choice or it will automatically subscribe you using their in-browser reader. When searching in Firefox or Safari, the icon for a RSS Feed will usually show up on the far right of the URL in the search box.

Alternatives instead of using a RSS Feed Reader

Utilizing a RSS Feed is great and has its advantages, but it does contain a few steps that can be overwhelming or confusing depending on which RSS Feed you decide to use, which browser you use, and what RSS Feed the website you are wanting to subscribe to uses.

Newsletter. So the simple solution to not using an RSS Feed reader is a newsletter subscription! Many many websites out there have a way to subscribe to their updates. Simply put your email address, and some ask for a name, and sign up to receive newsletters so you can receive updates daily, weekly, monthly, etc. I encourage all websites or blogs to have a newsletter even if they have a RSS Feed.

Bookmarking. Bookmarking is great to use when you want to refer back to a specific website’s page, but it will not tell you when it updates. With this it would be up to you check to the website often for updates. This is great to use when you come by a specific article online and you want to keep it to refer back when you want.

Please feel free to leave a comment and let me know if I missed any important points when it comes to using RSS feeds. What have you found to work well or not work at all?

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Hello, my name is Jessica, welcome to my blog! If you enjoy expanding your knowledge in graphic and website design, blogging, technology, social media, and so much more, then you’ll feel right at home here:)

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