What is an RSS feed and how does it work?

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What is an RSS feed and how does it work?

Keeping up to date with all of your interests can be a real challenge in a world flooded with content. There are lots of ways that people try to do it. These range from checking social media, going from site to site everyday and bombarding Google with a thousand different search terms. Sure, these are all viable options if you have time to kill. However, if you don’t have the luxury of having hours to spend trying to find what it is you’re looking for, then it’s time to turn to RSS feeds.

Those of you who are familiar with dial up internet access (which sounded like a dying robot having one last seizure) were around when RSS was first launched. Gone are the days of worrying about mum using the house phone and cutting off the internet connection. The internet has advanced rapidly and so have RSS feeds. In the past, RSS feeds used to dominate the world of site searching. That was until the arrival of social media.

While seen as outdated (even Google doesn’t like supporting RSS feeds), they still serve a purpose. In fact, this overlooked mode of getting all of the important information delivered to your device is still superior to social media in many ways.

 

What exactly is RSS?

Depending on who you ask, RSS can mean Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication. Whatever people call it; it is basically a way of delivering updated content in the form of video, images and simple text files. These are then fed into a feed reader that converts them into a stream of relevant and updated content from around the internet and delivers it directly to your device.

As the internet evolved, so did RSS files. Those who were using RSS feeds in the beginning would have received simple, stripped-down information on their desktop via a feed reader. Today, the concept is the same but all types of media are now delivered. The simplicity of the files is still in place to help content remain compatible with all types of feed readers.

 

How do RSS feeds work?

When using RSS, it is important to note that not every website uses it. But the good news is that many sites still do. So how exactly does an RSS feed work? Here’s the lowdown on it.

The first thing that is needed is an RSS reader. These are available as apps, extensions and files available to download online. There are definitely more options available for desktop devices, but mobile devices also have their own fair share of RSS readers and apps.

Then you head to your favorite website and look for the RSS link. If you can’t find it, press Ctrl + F

And type RSS into the pop-up box. You can also search Google using the site name and adding “RSS” at the end of the search phrase.

If the site has an RSS feed, simply copy and paste the URL into your RSS reader. Rinse and repeat the process with all of your favorite websites.

Pretty simple, right? Well, it keeps on getting better. Once you have everything set up, all of your feeds will appear in one location. The RSS feeds can be arranged into separate folders and alerts can be set to notify you about feed updates that are important to you. No more spending an eternity searching for the content that you want. Fire up your RSS reader, and bam, exactly what you want appears right in front of your eyes like magic.

 

What are the benefits of RSS feeds?

When you add an RSS URL to your reader, you are, in effect, subscribing to their feed. Information will keep being delivered to your RSS reader all the time that you remain subscribed. If you get bored of seeing content from any of the sites that you have subscribe to, all it takes is the click of a button to unsubscribe. But how exactly can an RSS feed benefit you?

RSS feeds are superior to social media feeds. RSS feeds don’t push paid content or irrelevant content onto your device. It allows you to see all content as it is published meaning you don’t miss out on a single thing that is important to you.

Reading your favourite blogs. RSS feeds are the ultimate way to keep up-to-date with your friends and families blogs. You won’t ever have to worry about missing a blog post again. They type away, publish it appearance on your device almost instantly.

Latest news and politics. If you like to be kept up-to-date with breaking news and politics then an RSS feed can deliver the freshest content to your reader. Whether you want the latest gossip on Kim Kardashian (Don’t groan like that! She just popped up in a feed right now, that’s why we used her as an example… promise!) or specific news stories from a certain country, RSS feeds are the way to go.

Wallpaper updates. If you are one of those people who needs to change their desktop wallpaper every single day, then an RSS feed is the perfect way to get the latest images from around the world. Like a picture that you see? Click on it, right click on it and set as wallpaper. Simple.

Inspirational quotes and jokes. If you live for inspirational quotes or want to start your day with a laugh, an RSS feed can deliver these to you every morning.

Travel and weather. If you are about to head off on holiday, keeping up to date with the currency exchange rates and local news can save you a small fortune and keep you safe. Regular currency exchange updates can help you work out when the best time is to exchange those dollars for maximum value.

Interests and hobbies. Everyone has a hobby or at least something that they love to do (which is basically a way of having a hobby without admitting to it) whether it’s gardening, DIY, baking or dog training you can have useful advice and Snippets of interesting conversations sent straight to your device for your perusal.

 

Wait! But didn’t you say RSS was outdated?

In a way, yes. But not outdated as in irrelevant. Outdated as in “not as modern” as social media feeds. For many people, social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Tumblr have become the go-to alternatives to RSS feeds. While these modern-day sites may reign supreme, in effect, they are basically RSS feeds on steroids.

It may come as a shock to some, but not everyone uses social media. By the end of 2017, some 4.1 billion people used the internet. This is two-thirds of the world’s population. With approximately 2.23 billion people using social media, that leaves almost 2 billion not using it. Ultimately, there is a huge market out there for RSS and any website not using it is missing out on potential customers and followers. And not just a handful, but almost half of all active internet users.

If you take a look at podcasts, weather channels and YouTube channels you will notice that they are almost identical to RSS. As an example of what we mean, every time you login to YouTube, any channel that you are subscribed to will pop up on your home screen with recent content featuring first. Basically, by subscribing to a YouTube channel you are showing an interest in its content. This is also shown in the “recommended for you” tab that features similar content (well, it tries anyway.). RSS may be old, and for many youngsters, may be a mystery. But it is everywhere you look, be it an actual RSS feed or a mirror-image of it used in social media.

 

OK, so what are the best RSS feed readers then?

There are literally hundreds of feed readers available to download. Of course, the type that you download will largely depend on the device that you want to install it on. Let’s take a quick look at six of the best feed readers to use in 2018.

Feedly. Feedly is the Google of the RSS world. There were two versions available. The first is the free version, which while restrictive at times is still fully functional. The second is the paid version which unlocks any limits found with the free version. The user interface is extremely easy to use and there are plenty of third-party app integration options. It allows you to personalize your feed, search for content and add content to a “read later” folder.

The old Reader. Don’t let the name mislead you. There is nothing old about this reader and the name simply hints at the simplicity it provides. It packs a powerful punch and is a truly robust feed reader. Launching back in 2013 just as Google decided to kill their own reader, it has become one of the most popular alternatives on the web. You can also connect your Google and Facebook accounts to discover what your friends are reading and import OPML files to access feeds from other platforms.

Inoreader. Another RSS reader that decided to take over where Google left a gap, it is an easy-to-use reader with a twist. Rather than simply seeing your feed as one long list, you can organise everything into different cards. The search bar allows you to type in your favorite websites, keywords or enter the URL of an RSS feed and it will show related content alongside exactly what you are searching for.

Feeder. If Feedly is more complicated than you had anticipated, then Feeder is the perfect alternative. You can have up to 10 different RSS feed columns and can select the simple view for multimedia and text content or the full view for a rich, full web page within the reader itself. Organising your content into folders is easy and is performed on automatically once you have set up your filters. Again, you can upload OPML files to access feeds on other platforms.

Flipboard. For those searching for an RSS feed app, Flipboard is among the most popular. The user interface is easy to navigate and features a magazine-like style. You can add your interests and favorite topics via the “what’s your passion” section. Overall, the entire layout of the content that you receive makes it a joy to read.

Feedreader online. Having been around for over a decade, feed reader is one of the ultimate RSS feed readers out there. Being a web-based reader means that it works across all devices. Whether you are using a Mac, Windows or Android the feeds keep on flowing. One thing that we know you’re going to love is the fact that it is free. What could be better than a universally usable feed reader that doesn’t cost a cent to use?

 

So RSS feeds are worth revisiting?

Absolutely! It doesn’t matter if you are a publisher or a reader looking for content. RSS feeds are definitely not on the shelf just yet. There are literally hundreds of different reasons to use RSS. Of course, the most important is the fact that as we said earlier, almost half of all internet users don’t use social media.

These people are the ones that are most likely to use an RSS feed to keep up-to-date with their interests. Can you really afford to be missing out on so many people? And even if you can, how many of them are already loyal to your brand or business? Keep them in the loop and don’t ditch RSS just yet.
And for those of you out there who are actually interested in Kim Kardashian! RSS feeds will keep you in the loop every time she decides to “break the internet.” The bottom line (no pun intended.) Is that RSS enriches user enjoyment and from a business perspective, allows everyone to keep up-to-date with your content regardless of whether they use social media or not.

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