We’ve been fielding questions about WordPress all month. It’s encouraging to hear how much interest this project is getting. Recently, we received this question from Mack Lewis at CPE: “How does the RSS feed work? What’s its purpose?”, so this post is an attempt to answer that question for Mack and others.
RSS stands for “Really Simple Syndication” and is an an alternative presentation medium for weblogs. All WordPress blogs automatically support syndication formats including RSS and Atom. If you read a lot online, these syndication tools can help you read more online and spend less time doing it. If you find reading news online cumbersome, a feed reader might just be the best way to get started.
RSS isn’t just for human readers, though. Since RSS is designed to be handled efficiently by computer programs, there are many sites on the internet dedicated to syndicating news from various sources, called Blog Aggregators. One of the main benefits to blog authors for providing blog RSS feeds is that aggregators can be a way of advertising your blog to new readers. If you’re looking to expand your blog’s audience, one way to start is to submit your blog’s feed to those aggregators.
Technology is a rapidly changing field, and it can be difficult to keep up with the latest developments. I started reading news via RSS in mid-2007 when someone sent me an article/video about Robert Scoble, a popular tech blogger, whose morning routine includes reading over 600 websites via RSS to find material for his own blog. At the time, I was mostly getting my tech news from Slashdot and Ars Technica.
After watching the video, I decided to give Google Reader (demo video) a try. So far, it’s been a success. Instead of browsing to five or six different websites to keep up on what’s new, I can do it all at once. Right now, I have 120 items in my reading queue from 66 weblogs (including all of the District 6 blogs), and when I sit down to read, I’ll probably spend 20 to 30 minutes skim-reading all of those articles. When I see something interesting, I open the article in a new tab and move down the “river of news” view to find other interesting items. Every once in a while, an article from weeks back will pop into my head in conversation, and since Google Reader has excellent search, (most of the bugs having been fixed since 2007) I can usually go back and find what I was thinking of. Sometimes I joke that I’ve never known so little about such a wide range of topics in my whole life.
In Firefox, look for the orange RSS icon on the right hand side of the address bar. When the site that you’re reading has an RSS feed, the icon appears and has a menu you can use to subscribe to the feed in your reader of choice. Most major internet sites now provide RSS feeds.