RSS Feeds

circuit boardYesterday I mentioned RSS feeds, so today I thought I would describe them in more detail.

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. It’s sort of like html code, but different in some key ways. Mainly, with RSS feeds the content comes to you rather than you going to the content.

If a web site has an RSS feed option, you’ll see a little link or button that says “XML,” “RSS,” “Syndicate this site,” “Atom,” or something like that. (The feed URL for this site is to the right near the top, for example.) You may have already seen this button and clicked on it, only to get a page full of text and code that was difficult to read. That’s OK, it’s just not meant to be read in a web browser.

Instead, what you can do is copy the address for that page of gibberish into a program known as a “news aggregator.” That program then checks the feed on a regular basis to see if the website has any new content. If there is, it shows it to you. Naturally, this feature is nice for sites that update often, like news and blog sites. Most of my news comes from the RSS feeds I’ve subscribed to, although I’ll occasionally listen to the radio.

News aggregators are becoming more and more common, and you don’t need to pay a dime for a good one either. If you use Firefox you can download an extension to make it an aggregator as well as a browser, or you can go with any one of a number of programs out there. Even Thingamablog (the program I use to make this website) has an aggregator feature, although at this point I much prefer NetNewsWire Lite for OS X. You can even use a web based news aggregator if you use multiple computers (Yahoo! has added this feature, for example), but I much prefer using a separate application.