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 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.
Image by Chesi – Fotos CC’s
The standard RSS icon is the little orange rounded square (). 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.