I read the news, but not the newspaper.

And I used to work at the newspaper.  For ten years in fact.  I read the content that gets published to the newspaper, but well before the process takes place.  I read it at my leisure, the articles are filtered by the sections that I prefer, and best of all I’m not left with ink smudges on all ten digits.  What does all this have to do with the title of this post?  Well, everything.

RSS, or Really Simple Syndication, is a web technology that publishes feeds of content from websites that have implemented it.  The number of feeds that a website can create is unlimited, so the feeds can be narrowed down to very specific content for very specific audiences.  For example, my feeds range from broad (Top Stories from cbc.ca) to very specific (a Craigslist feed of motorcycles for sale in my city ranging from $2000-$4000) and everything in between.  Feeds are also live – meaning that new posts show up instantly in your feed reader – so you know you’re always on top of things.

So how come you’ve either never heard of this or you haven’t figured out how to set it up?  Queue the Really? in the title of my post.  It’s not as simple as the name suggests.  You have to find the feeds and add them to your feed reader.  That sounds simple enough to the technically inclined, but in order to syndicate something the process must be transparent to the user, and definitely can’t consist of more than one step.  For those of you ready to take that second step and harness web content customized specifically for you, read on…

RSS support is built into Internet Explorer, Firefox, Outlook and a multitude of other applications, but I’ll focus solely on Google Reader, my favourite RSS feed reader.  I like it because its web based and you can use your Gmail login to access it.  Here are the basic steps to take to get rolling:

Find your first feed. Visit a website containing regularly updated content that you like and do one of the following:

    • Find the universal RSS link icon (RSS Icon) somewhere on the page.
    • Most browsers will automatically find the RSS link on a page and provide a button for you to click on. Here is Internet Explorer’s button, for example:

RSS In Menu Bar

    • Look for a link on the page entitled RSS.

Don’t worry about which method to use. All three of these methods will land you in the same place.

    • Click on the specific RSS link that you’ve found, and once the new web page loads, right-click the URL in the address bar and choose Copy:

    • Visit http://www.google.com/reader/ and login with your Gmail username and password or create an account.
    • Once logged in, click on Navigation, Add a Subscription, right-click and paste the URL, and then click Add:

Google Reader - click add

  • Voila!  You now see in front of you a chronologically ordered RSS feed, and as you scroll down the entries are marked as read, just like in your e-mail program.
  • Now repeat the process as many times as you want with as many feeds as you like.  Check your feeds from anywhere on the Internet, anytime.
  • Visit http://www.google.com/support/reader/?hl=en for detailed help from Google.

By no means are you limited to using Google Reader to read RSS feeds – I just used it as an example because it’s my personal favourite.

To avoid completely straying from the topic of conversation, I’ll end this post Jeopardy-style:

It claims to be simple but simply is not.Huge RSS Logo

What is Really Simple Syndication?

Is it absolutely worth taking the time to figure out how it can work for you.

What is Really Simple Syndication?

p.s. This is an RSS feed.