If you’re like me, you probably have a list of sites that you visit fairly regularly – hopefully The Crafty Writer is one of them :) . But sometimes finding out if there’s anything new on a site can be hard, and it can be frustrating making the effort of going to a site, only to find there’s nothing new. This is where RSS comes in. It’s like having your mail delivered to your door, rather than having to go to the Post Office to pick it up. Much easier, I’m sure you’ll agree.

What is RSS?

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, and is a technology that allows websites to broadcast their content on the web so that interested parties (ie you and I) can subscribe to it, and be automatically notified when there is something new. It gets fairly technical behind the scenes, but you don’t have to understand how it works, only how to use it. These days most sites (especially those with content that is updated regularly, like blogs and news sites) broadcast one or more feeds, with more adopting the technology all the time.

Why do I need RSS?

Going back to the Post Office analogy, it’s probably not too much of a hardship to go and pick up your mail (as long as you don’t live too far from the Post Office), but imagine you had different mail items arriving at different depots – then it wouldn’t be so easy. OK, I admit it’s a contrived example, but this is what happens on the web. You have to remember the URLs of all your favourite sites, or have them bookmarked somewhere so you can access them when needed.

RSS makes it possible to concentrate the content from all these sites in a single location known as a Feed Reader (also known as an Aggregator for obvious reasons). And as already mentioned, the Reader application does the hard work of checking for updates, a bit like having your mail arrive on your doorstep.

How much does RSS cost?

As soon as I see the word “subscribe” in a sentence trying to convince me to use something, I start wondering “how much?”. Fear not – RSS is free! The fact is it’s in most websites’ best interest to get you to subscribe to their feed, because then you are more likely to become a loyal visitor. And as a consequence, they are also likely to try and make it as easy as possible for you to get hooked up. Don’t you just love web economics?

How do I get RSS?

There are two things you need to do:

  1. Get a Feed Reader application
  2. Subscribe to the feeds of your favourite sites

Choosing a Feed Reader

Feed Reader applications are a lot like email clients (Outlook, Thunderbird, etc). And like email clients they come in two distinct flavours: those you install on your computer, and those that are web-based. Personally I prefer the web-based variety because you can use them at home, at work, or at your friend’s house.

To help you get started, here are links to some of the most popular readers out there (Note: I’ve only personally used Google reader, so for specific information about each one, follow the links below)

Subscribe to some feeds

The universal feed icon looks like this ; other common variations to look out for are and . Generally one or more of these will be displayed on the site’s homepage, usually on the sidebar menu. If you can’t find it, try using the site’s search facility, if provided. Once you’ve located the feed, simply click the link.

If you’re lucky a page will be displayed that looks something like this:

Simply select the particular Reader you’re using and voila!

Otherwise you may find yourself looking at something more like this:

In that case, simply copy the URL from the address bar of your browser and manually paste it into your Reader application.

Some recent browsers also support feed autodiscovery (IE7 and Firefox are just two of the more popular ones that do). If this is the case, you should see the feed icon in your browser’s address bar:


Once again, simply click the icon and you’re all set.

If you want to go over the process again, here’s a nice video clip that explains it all very nicely.

The final step is for you to subscribe to The Crafty Writer (go on, you know you want to!)

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2 comments on “Introduction to RSS

  1. Pingback: The Crafty Writer goes Full Feed at The Crafty Writer

  2. Pingback: Writing historical crime novels - interview with R.S. Downie at The Crafty Writer

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