Editors' Note: This has been bumped back up to the top by the Ed Team. We have ten times more traffic now than when it was first published, so it's a good time to remind Projectors of the easiest way to access the Bilerico sites. This was originally published in July 2007 and is always linked from our front page at the top of the right column.
We get a lot of questions about RSS. What is it? How does it work? Why should I use it? I have decided to devote this premiere edition of Gay Geeks to RSS and how RSS feeds can make your blog reading life much more pleasant and fulfilling.
There is often confusion around RSS because of competing technologies and poor implementation by some websites. Let's take some of the mystery out of this time-saving tool and help you get on the right track with RSS.
Why all the hype around RSS in the first place?
- RSS helps keep you up to date with more of your favorite websites.
- It's much faster to load than a full web page with pictures, movies, etc.
- You get an uncluttered view of the content on the website.
- You are in control of what content you read and when you read it.
- Website owners will love you for taking the strain off their servers and networks
- All of the cool kids are doing it...
Full details, including how you too can jump on the RSS bandwagon, after the break...
What is RSS?
First, let's get something out of the way...There are a lot of names for the same thing. RSS feed, XML feed, Atom feed, News feed, etc. They're all the same thing. Yes, any proper geek will flip out over that statement, but be assured: For all intents and purposes, for 99% of people, they are all the same thing in that they perform the exact same function from an end-user standpoint. RSS is the standard and verbiage that has seemingly won out, so that's the nomenclature we're going to use here.
RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds are just another way of accessing the content of a website. Most sites will offer content from the last 15 or so entries in their feed starting with the newest. The feed content always contains the freshest content on the site.
You might be thinking, "Isn't that pretty much just like the front page of the website?" The answer is, "Yeah, sort of, but not really."
How is RSS used?
The idea behind RSS is to offer readers a stripped down version of the content of a website in order to only transfer the bare necessities. This reduces the amount of bandwidth necessary for a large number of people to keep up to date with a website.
Most sites use feeds in one of two ways. Some post a synopsis or teaser for the article while others may provide the article entirely. This is totally up to the webmaster of the website in question and unfortunately, most webmasters aren't even sure how they should be serving their feeds. Here at The Bilerico Project, we include an excerpt of the entry to give you an idea of what the article is about so you can decide if you want to click through to finish the post.
Feeds are published in a plain text file using a markup language called XML, which stands for eXtesible Markup Language. (Don't worry, you don't need to know anything about XML or even text files to enjoy your RSS goodness, but do follow the link if you're interested in learning more.)
RSS feeds aren't intended to be accessed directly, like the front page of a website. You are expected to use something called a "feed reader" or "feed aggregator" to access the feed. Your feed reader reads that XML code inside the file and displays in some for or another the titles, authors, dates, and excerpts for each entry.
How do I get hip with RSS?
"Oh no," you might be thinking, "another program I have to open? Where would I even get one of those reader/aggregator things?"
Never fear, most modern web browsers (Firefox 1.5 , Safari 2 , IE 7) have rudimentary RSS functionality built right in. Firefox calls them "Live Bookmarks", IE calls them "feeds", and Safari uses "RSS". It's all the same thing. (It's this dysfunctional nomenclature that I believe confuses most people.)
There are, of course, dedicated applications for reading RSS feeds. NetNewsWire for Mac and FeedDemon it's ugly Windows step-sister. I use NetNewsWire to manage the feeds I track and I love it. A lot of people use online RSS readers, though. There's Google Reader, Bloglines, NewsGator, My Yahoo now has the option to include any RSS feed too - just way too many to talk about. If you're interested in finding an online reader, this list of online RSS readers is a good starting point. Our own RSS feed has a nice list of online feed readers as well - just visit in your web browser.
Once you have your RSS reader, you need some feeds to get started. May I suggest The Bilerico Project RSS feed?
Most websites offer two ways to find their feeds. Almost all websites that offer feeds have a link to the feed on their front page. Many sites use the universal feed icon (pictured right) to indicate a link to their feed; most stick with the default orange. Click the link (or copy the feed's URL into your feed reader) and you are set.
Many websites also contain special code that allows feed readers and RSS enabled browsers to "discover" the feed for the site automatically. This is tricky because 1) not all sites use this feature, and 2) some readers handle this differently than others so it's not always predictable what feed you'll end up with if there is more than one.
However you decide to use them, RSS feeds will make make your time spent reading blogs and other web content much more manageable and enjoyable. So find a favorite feed reader and start subscribing to the feeds from your favorite websites (don't forget ours!)
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