A Comprehensive Guide to Using RSS

Have you ever wished you could get the most up to date information from several of your favorite websites, all in one place? With RSS feeds, websites are able to publish their content in a standardized format which can be delivered into one place through RSS readers. The benefit to readers: creating one page of information from many sources via RSS subscriptions.

RSS Readers


RSS readers come in many formats, from software you can use on your local machine, to online based readers. For those of who travel from one machine to the next between work and home, it makes the most amount of sense to use an online based RSS reader. My choice has been Google Reader. Because I have a Google account, I can access my RSS reader, Gmail, Adsense, Calendar, and other Google products all with one login.

Within Google Reader, I am able to create folders to organize all of my RSS subscriptions. I am also able to share my favorite posts with others by clicking on the Share link at the bottom of all articles.

Since Google Reader is the reader I use, I will reference it a lot, but if you are not a fan of Google, there are other great online readers to choose from. Two that I have tried in the past that work similarly to Google Reader are NewsGator and Bloglines. You can also add feeds to My Yahoo and My MSN, but I’m not sure if you can organize them with folders and such, and if you end up subscribing to a lot of feeds like I do, then you will want the organization options, as opposed to all of your feeds being on one screen.


What to Look For


The standard RSS icon is the little orange rounded square (rss icon). But RSS icons also come in all shapes, sizes and colors. To get an idea, take a look at the results of a Google Image search on RSS icons. They also could be linked to textually using RSS, Atom, XML or Subscribe.

RSS Troubleshooting


One note before we get started. In certain browsers, if you have not selected Google Reader as your default subscription reader, some of the following feed URL’s will come up in a browser window with no options to add them to a reader aside from a browser specific, local reader. For example, IE will give you a Subscribe to this feed link, but it will only add it to a feed folder in your IE bookmarks which will only be available on your pc. If you are not taken automagically to a page with the option to add a feed to Google Reader, then you can go directly to Google Reader, and paste the feed URL into Add a subscription near the top left of the page.

News Feeds


Most of the major news sites have several RSS feeds. They generally have a RSS page that explains the basics of RSS, and then lists the feeds that they publish. Examples of these would include CNN, BBC, and the Associated Press. News.com.au takes it a step further, and breaks down news within a category. So instead of just subscribing to all news about travel, you can narrow your subscription down to just news on skiing, family holidays, spa, or by location.

Twitter Feeds


If you are following thousands of Twitter users, you may miss status updates from your favorite people. For those users whose updates you do not want to miss out on, just go to their Twitter profile, and underneath their list of followers, click on the RSS feed of user’s updates. Then you can have their updates coming right to your RSS feed reader. For example, if you never want to miss out on my Twitter updates, you can subscribe to @kikolani’s RSS.


Another handy related Twitter RSS feed is a search query. If you go to Twitter Search and look up a particular topic, you can subscribe to the Feed for this query at the top right of the search results page. This way, you can keep up to date on the latest tweets about any given topic. Other ways to use this is for reputation management – subscribe to a search query with your name or company name. And yes, the new mentions (formerly replies) on Twitter should catch any @yourusername replies, but if for some reason your username is used without the @, then you will have to search to find the tweet.

Delicious Feeds


Delicious offers RSS feeds for specific users and tags. To subscribe to a user’s bookmark, just go to their Delicious page and at the bottom, click the RSS Feed for these bookmarks. To subscribe to all bookmarks on a specific topic, use the search box near the top right to search for your topic. At the top of the results, click on See all bookmarks tagged link. Then, go to the bottom of the page and click on the RSS Feed for these bookmarks.

StumbleUpon Feeds


If you enjoy a particular StumbleUpon user’s favorites and reviews, you can subscribe to them with the little orange RSS icon at the top right of their profile, above the larger subscribe button and numbers of favorites & followers they have.

Digg Feeds


Digg offers several feeds to choose from on its RSS Feeds page, including the popular stories and stories by category in Technology, Business, Science, Sports and more.

Flickr Feeds


While you are searching for photos on Flickr, if you find a user whose pictures you enjoy, you can go to their photostream, and at the bottom of the page click on the Subscribe to user’s photostream. This will bring their latest photos straight to your reader. For example, you can subscribe to kikolani’s photostream and see my latest uploads before they appear on a photography post.

Also, you can create feeds for recently uploaded photos with particular tags. The formatting for the url is as follows: http://api.flickr.com/services/feeds/photos_public.gne?tags=yourtag&lang=en-us&format=rss_200 – just change yourtag to whatever photos you are searching for. If you want to use more than one tag, just format it as firsttag+secondtag+thirdtag, so a search for Cherry Blossoms in Japan would be http://api.flickr.com/services/feeds/photos_public.gne?tags=japan+cherry+blossoms&lang=en-us&format=rss_200. There is more about formatting RSS url’s for particular Flickr searches on the Flickr Services page.

Facebook Feeds


Facebook does offer RSS feeds for its members’ status updates. It has been tricky to find these since the “new Facebook” emerged. In order to subscribe to a friend’s status updates via RSS, they will have to send you their specific feed URL. To find your URL, go to http://www.new.facebook.com/minifeed.php?filter=11 after logging into your Facebook account. In the View column on the right, there is a Subscribe to these Stories. Right click on My Status and Copy Link or Copy Link Location. This is the RSS feed to your status updates that you can share with others to add to their RSS reader. I’m not sure how many people use this, especially since you have to ask for the link from your friends, but it seems like a good way to keep up with certain people if you have thousands of friends. If there is another simpler way, please let me know in the comments.

Forums


Some forums offer RSS feeds, so you can see the newest topics in your RSS reader. The Macobserver forums have several, customizable feed options to choose from, such as subscribing to a specific topic, only topics with replies, or multiple topics.

Blog Feeds


The majority of blog sites will have a RSS feed option, as most bloggers want subscribers like kids want candy – the more the better. On blogs, you can subscribe to the main site’s content to get the latest articles and posts. Generally, RSS links on blogs are generally located in the header of the blog, in the right sidebar, or in the footer of the page. You can also subscribe to comments for the entire blog or for a specific article to follow the discussions. Comment subscription links for the entire blog are generally located in the footer, while specific article comment subscription links are located near the post comments form.

Organization


Since I subscribe to a significant number of blogs, websites and other sources, I have to keep them organized by subject. For example, I have a tennis folder. Inside that folder, I have tennis blogs, the latest Delicious bookmarks and Digg articles on tennis, the latest updates from my favorite Twitter users who tweet about tennis, and a Flickr feed of professional tennis player photos.

I also have some feeds organized by how I use them. For example, I have a folder called Blogs2Comment. These are blogs that I like to read and comment on that remove the NoFollow attribute from their commentator’s website links and have the CommentLuv feature. This way, I get the benefit of reading great information plus getting to build backlinks to my site when I add my 2 cents to their article.

Tips for Website Owners


If you have a blog or any other type of website that has regularly updated content, be sure that your RSS feed options are clear and placed in all those “stopping points” on your site: the header & footer of every page, sidebars, ends of articles, confirmation pages after someone fills out a form or comments, and so forth. The easier your subscription options are to find, the more people are likely to subscribe.

Also be sure to explain what RSS is and the benefit of subscribing to your readers. You’ll be amazed at the increase in subscriptions just by introducing the benefits of RSS to readers who have not yet utilized it.

Your RSS Usage Suggestions and Tips


I hope that everyone who has read this article has found at least one new benefit of RSS subscriptions. These are just some of the ways I have taken advantage of RSS. Please comment with more uses, organizational methods, feed reader suggestions, and other tips for RSS utilization, for both the average internet user and website owners.





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Comments

  1. says

    I use Google Reader too. At the top I have something similar to your Blogs2Comment on folder, which I call “_Must Read_” (I put the underscore first so it appears at the top of Google Reader :D )

    Also, I just added CommentLuv and Nofollow-Free plugins recently – it’s the only way to go! :)

    Eric D Greenes last blog post..Oil Pastel Flowers

  2. says

    Wow Kristi, you’ve really outdone yourself with this post. That is by far the most detailed and informative article I’ve seen on RSS feeds. I didn’t realize we could subscribe to individual feeds from those social sites. I just went to Digg and learned that we can subscribe to search terms too. Just search Digg as usual and you will see the little feed button. I just subscribed to ‘Internet Marketing’. Very nice, thank you.

    Brian D. Hawkinss last blog post..Snickers – Extreme Branding

  3. says

    @Eric: I didn’t organize my folders well in the beginning, but I figured out that you can drag the folders and rearrange them later, since you can’t rename them. Good to know other people put the DoFollow blogs in a special grouping.

    @Brian: Thanks for the tip on Digg… I didn’t know you could subscribe to searches. I originally was going to do a post about social bookmarking and RSS feeds, but when I started on RSS, I just kept finding new things to subscribe too on all the sites. I really wanted this post to help everyone, from the regular internet user to the more advanced ones. :)

    @Wayne: Yes, Firefox does have the RSS indicator in the address/URL bar. I rarely have to use it, but when I do, I’m tempted to email the site owner to let them know they should promote their feeds more.

    @rei: Although it’s not too friendly for the average internet user, I kind of like the sites like Flickr that allow you to play with the feed and customize it to almost anything on the site.

  4. says

    I’ve been looking for more information on RSS. It took me a while to understand what’s going on with it.

    Just recently I made a big mess up because I decided to edit my feed adress without understanding the consequences of that stupid action. Luckily I managed to edit it back.

    Thanks for the post.

    Claudias last blog post..Sell Yourself with Video

  5. says

    Hi Kristi,
    You have done a great job of letting people know how about using RSS Feeds.

    I am so glad you wrote this, now I can just send people here when they need the info.

    I am a firm believer that if you organize your feeds in your reader that you will have a much better experience. It also helps speed things up when you are looking for specific information in a hurry.

    Great job!

    Sheryl Lochs last blog post..Shyftr for RSS Feeds

  6. says

    Thanks for sharing this nice piece of information.
    I’m using Google too for quite some time and I find it great.
    For those blogging on Blogger platform, I think that Google would be a better choice as you can sign in to all using a single password.

  7. says

    I appreciate the twitter feed tips. As followers swell into the thousands it is increasingly difficult to keep track of that special core group. What a comprehensive look at the many sides of RSS. Thanks Kristi, this article is so informative I am considering linking to from my “why RSS” page.

    Jonathan – Advanced Life Skillss last blog post..What Controls Your Happiness?

  8. says

    @RunningWolf: Sometimes, a bit of change is exactly what you need to get writing again. I have done a lot of layout and functionality tweaking around here, and changed the theme slightly to include the new things I have been writing about.

    @Claudia: I messed up my RSS once by creating a new folder in the root directory of my site called feed. I can’t remember what I did it for now, but my feed died. Also, I installed a plugin once that caused all of my feeds to repeat one article over and over, but with different title names. It’s amazing the things that will interact badly with certain parts of your site.

    @Sheryl: I’d certainly welcome the traffic looking for more about RSS. Organization of your feed reader I think is the key to being excited about checking your new updates vs. being overwhelmed, if you subscribe to a lot of sites.

    @Zunnur: Another great point… Bloggers are on Google accounts, so it would be one less new login by using Google Reader.

    @Madhur: This post is partially for beginners, and partially for the more experienced. I figure that if I get people to use RSS for the first time, I am helping other bloggers (and myself) by giving one more potential subscriber.

    @Jonathan: Twitter RSS feeds were the first social network ones I found because there are certain people I that I just hate missing their Tweets. And I welcome the link back for people looking for more RSS information!

    @tikno: Thanks! I’m glad you find it useful.

    @Eric: That’s not bad… Including all the social network feeds, I have 632. :)

  9. says

    OK Kristi, what gives mate? You haven’t got anything better to do than come up with this wordy post. Man, there is no way I can get through this in one sitting, meaning I have to come back more than once. Method in your madness? :D

    Sires last blog post..March Stats Set WassupBlog Record

  10. says

    Very good post Kristi,

    I think not only beginners, but even regular and advance users should also go through this post thoroughly and there they may find something to learn. I found a few new things and so say Thank You KRISTI :)

  11. says

    @Sire: Yes, it is a plot to make readers have to bookmark it until later! Actually, I just started writing about all the ways I know of to use RSS, and once I finished, I as kind of shocked at the length. There were even a few things I left out, that I realized afterwards. What can I say, I like being thorough.

    @Ravi: I’m glad you found it informative about RSS. :)

    @BlurryLeo: You’re welcome.

    @Harry: That’s what I was hoping for… that even advanced users could find one or two new uses for RSS.

    @kenwooi: If you find anymore uses that I didn’t list, please add them here when you return.

    @Extreme John: I tried out several of the other readers, and Google has remained my favorite. The organization and share options alone make it worth it, not to mention the bonus of only one login to work with on my other accounts.

  12. says

    Really nice article, you have covered it all! Its concise, insightful, and more details, You must have taken that with a lot of observation

  13. says

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

    Joannah

    http://myscones.com

  14. says

    Excellent post for those of us who want to subscribe to RSS feeds of different sorts. I use Google Reader, mostly in order to SHARE my online discoveries with my blog readers. Personally, I use Newsgator/FeedDemon for my ‘must-follow’ feeds.

    I wonder if you could do a post [or recommend a source] for those of us bloggers who PUBLISH RSS feeds. i have several areas of concern that I’m trying to resolve:

    1 – Since Google took over FeedBurner, my feed stats are so chaotic in unexplained surges and declines. And the stats I do get just do not seem to correlate at all with what my blog host Hostgator reports. I suspect my subscriber numbers are way underreported.

    2 – Should a blogger consider leaving FeedBurner for another service, such as FeedBlitz? The FeedBlitz people are really trying to coax people away from FeedBurner, and their arguments seem sound. But I’m still left so confused about it all.

    3 – Conversion of visitors to subscribers. Hostgator reports that I got 5999 unique visitors in March [that’s been going up each month], but I have only about 175 FeedBurner subscribers, a figure that haws stayed constant for a very long time. Something’s not right there.

    Anyway, there is still so much for me to learn, even after 27 months of blogging.

    BTW, I will alert my readers to your RSS post sometime soon when I tackle the RSS subject myself. It’s a really valuable resource.

    Tom Colvins last blog post..Our 13+ Best Reviews of Word Processing Software

  15. says

    My favourite RSS reader is the Opera built-in one. It’s very easy, clean and simple. And it doesn’t eat away additional resources.

  16. says

    @John: Awesome! I hope you find RSS helpful in many more ways to come.

    @Sire: It’s not that I always have to be right. I just want to be thorough. :)

    @Kim: I try to keep up with them. Some are just in there for when I have a day where I want to read about something in particular. Then it’s all just waiting in my reader for me.

    @Joannah: Thanks for commenting!

    @Tom: Maybe I will tackle this issue one day on here. In the meantime, to answer a few of your questions. Yes, the Feedburner count is erratic. Before and after Google took it over, I would see steady numbers, then a wild fluctuation, then after a few days, right back to the steady numbers. I haven’t heard of Feedblitz, but it’s good to know someone is competing – maybe it will get Google to make sure Feedburner works correctly from now on.

    As far as conversion, I have the same issue. I have noticed that recently, since I have been getting more traffic, my subscriptions have gone up, so it does convert, just not as high of a ratio as I’d like. And I appreciate any referrals you send this way for RSS info! :)

    @Tom: I’ve actually never used Opera, but I’ve heard lots of good things!

  17. says

    Kristi, thanks for your reply. You point to one of the frustrations of blogging: we can see our pretty impressive traffic numbers, but often we never see the people behind those numbers.

    I’m impressed with your ability to write blog posts that draw comments. My posts draw readership, but almost no comments. I’ll be studying your posting style to see just what tricks you have up your sleeve.

    Another question: what comments plug in are you using?

    By the way, thanks for following me on Twitter.

    Tom Colvins last blog post..More Steve Harrison — this one impresses me!

  18. says

    I forgot to add that by using rss marketing it can really benefit your business, when you effectively market you feed you can gain a large base of loyal blog readers that can thus become your potential clients in the near future.

  19. says

    @Tom: That part can be frustrating. I have noticed a steady climb in subscribers and commenters, so I think it is starting to work out well, but there are definitely lots of hits that I wish would at least say hello so I know they are really checking the site out.

    For comments, I use the CommentLuv, which posts the commenters last post, and DoFollow, which makes commenters’ links more valuable in terms of SEO and link building. These plugins will definitely increase your comments, simply because people want to do the link building. But you can always sort out the people who are commenting just for that purpose, and the ones that are actually putting in valuable comments, and build a community that way.

    @Nihar: Thanks! The reader makes a big difference, especially when well organized.

    @Almir: Hope it comes in handy for you in the future! I haven’t done much in terms of marketing the feed, besides making it easy to subscribe by putting links all over the site. That has definitely helped.

  20. says

    Hi Kristi,

    I only discover this post today, hope it is not too late. Beside my FlexiJourney Blog, I have a new blog running at http://favorizer.blogspot.com/, it is about RSS too. Share with your here, my intention for this blog is to post up to 10 categorized blog links & feed headlines at a time and share with others of what blogs I have discovered.

    Also I have made all the feed links available for download, so you can just download the zip files & import all feeds into your Google Reader to subscribe them in one go. You can download the subscriptions here. The blog is new & I still need time to build this blog up.

    Philip Zes last blog post..10 Blogs About Technology