RSS: Really Simply Stated - It's TIVO For Blogs.
This is my Sunday supplement to Kathy's Saturday bytes in which she highlighted a guide to RSS. I like it but don't think it does the whole job because, to my eyes, the "how to" is in the wrong order and gets a little bogged down in technical details about live feeds etc which is something a neophyte can learn about later. However, it is about time we collectively sorted out this RSS phobia, so here's my version. I welcome amendments. But be warned, if you get too anal you will be geek-slapped.
What is RSS?
It's TIVO for blogs.
What does RSS do?
It allows you to set up your own personalised webpage to which is delivered every post from every blog and news site you wish.
When you open that page, every entry from those blogs that you have not yet perused is waiting for your attention.
They will stay there indefinitely until you read or delete them.
How do I set up this personalised page?
You subscribe to an RSS Reader.
What is an RSS Reader?
It is an online service (usually free) which enables you to create the personalised webpage that will monitor your favourite blogs.
What do I do?
There are many RSS readers. These include MyYahoo, MyMSN, MyAOL, MyGoogle and Bloglines. Choose one (I use Bloglines), go to its home page, set up a free account and then you're ready. This will take minutes or maybe less.
[TIP: If you want to be super clever, then once you've signed up to a reader, locate the "subscribe to" page within that reader and bookmark it or better still place it in your browser tool bar. This is slightly more technical and definitely not essential but I mention it because it saves me time.]
How do I fill my personalised page?
You go to any blog of your choice and you "subscribe" to its RSS feed. This activates the connection between that blog and your personalised page. This will take seconds.
How do I "subscribe" to a blog's RSS feed?
There are essentially three ways.
1) On many blogs, you will see an array of symbols that correspond to RSS feeds. They should appear prominently if the blog is designed well - on my blog you will see them beneath my profile in the left hand column.
Locate the one that applies to your reader and click it. A new window opens. It is full of jargon - don't worry. All you have to do is to tick one of the boxes and then scroll down to click on the subscribe button.
What you have just done is choose the technical way in which the blog is delievered to your personalised page. For all sane people, life is too short to worry about which one you actually ticked.
2) If the blog does not feature a symbol corresponding to your reader, it will probably feature the orange square that you see on my blog. Click on this and you will go to a window that should feature a multitude of symbols and you can now locate the one you need and repeat the steps outlined in 1 above.
3) If you have been clever as suggested above, you are in total control of the process. Go to the blog of your choice and click the subscribe page via your tool bar or favourites. What you have just done is exactly as happens in version 1 above but you have not had to go looking for the subscribe symbol on the blog. Your computer is effectively imposing that button on any blog you visit.
Now you can peruse the blogs at your leisure. Log in to your RSS reader account. Click on the "my feeds" page and there it is - your personalised compendium of blogs.
The appearance varies depending on your reader but essentially there will be a list in the left column of all the blogs you are tracking and a number which indicates how many articles or posts are being stored fom that blog. Click on the blog name and the right hand side of the window will be filled with the contents of those posts or perhaps a summary thereof.
You can skim or read these and decide if you want to click through to the blog itself to see the full version (readers tend to remove all formatting and images from their version of the blogpost) or to leave a comment.
Is there a time limit to my subscription?
No. If you don't have time to read a particular blog, you will notice that each time you return to your personalised webpage, the number next to it will have risen because new posts have been added to the blog. You choose when to read them.
There is a numerical limit to how many posts your page will store for each individual blog (for bloglines I believe it is 200), but then if you've not bothered with the last 200 posts of a blog, it is telling you something about your interest in that blog.
Anything else I should know?
Occassionally, you will discover a blog for which this process does not work. This will be because the writer of the blog has not bothered to establish an RSS feed. E mail them and direct them to a site such as feedburner where they will be able to do this for free and thereby make your life even easier than RSS already does.
A mammoth compendium of RSS readers appears here.
Is that all there is to it?
Essentially yes. Geeks just like to overcomplicate things for ego reasons.