Ok I think there’s quite a bit of confusion in general about what the hell RSS is and how it can be used, so I’m going to try and clear a few things up here to make the world a better place for y’all.

So I’m guessing most of you (at least one of you) discovered RSS via Firefox and the BBC in the form of Live Bookmarks. These presented themselves as ‘menus’ just below the Firefox toolbar and showed lists of items from the BBC website when clicked. So at this point you might be thinking that RSS is just for clever bookmarking stuff. This is not what RSS is really supposed to be used for, it’s just one way you can use it.

So what’s RSS then?
RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. Which is unfortunate as virtually no one knows what the hell that means (including me). So lets start from a different viewpoint:

Website have 2 main components:

  • Design – how it looks
  • Content – the information

So take the BBC has an example. The design is the layout of all the stories and stuff on the front page, the content is the text of those stories. RSS provides a way to get at the content of a website. Just the content, the pure text. An RSS feed is really just a file in a fixed format that gets updated by the website maintainer when the content of that website gets updated. It kind of looks like the source of a webpage really :) Lots of angle brackets and stuff.

Ok so what’s the point
Right the point is that now you can get the content of a website in a fixed format as long as you know the address for the page (RSS feed). So then some clever cloggs wrote a program that you gave a list of these sites to and it stuck all the content together and gave you a date ordered version of the stuff from these sites. And thus the RSS reader or aggregater was born!!

So now you can go round to sites that you like, grab the address of their RSS feed and give it to the RSS reader. Then you only have to look at the RSS feeder to see the new news from all of the sites rather than visiting them individually!

I’m sold, sort me out with a good RSS reader
Sure, [Google Reader] is a fantastic online RSS reader, and it’s what I use :)

So go grab a Google account if you don’t already own one, fire up Google reader and start adding your favourite sites to it!

Here’s on to get you started:

Also if you are running [Firefox 2] (and why the hell aren’t you) you’ll see and RSS icon in the address bar. Click on it and one of the options will allow you to subscribe to that feed via Google reader! But note that not all sites have RSS feeds and they might not always appear in the address bar – they might have links on the page for example.

Enjoy your more efficient news reading :)