All about RSS news feeds

What is RSS?

RSS stands for ‘Really Simple Syndication’ and is a increasingly useful way for websites to deliver information updates without using email. ‘Blog’ sites usually allow you to receive their latest comments using RSS. Newsletters can also be delivered using RSS. Subscribing to an RSS feed is free. Sites which offer an RSS feed usually display a small orange logo which says ‘RSS’ or ‘XML’: XML graphic

It is relatively early days for RSS, and it is not yet always very user-friendly. Watch the short video below, or carry on to read our explanation.

Is it like email?

Yes, RSS is similar in many ways to email. Like email, you can subscribe to the content you want and have it sent directly to you. However, RSS has several advantages over email. You don’t have to provide any personal information (such as an email address) when you subscribe to an RSS feed, and you don’t have to go through a complicated process to unsubscribe from a feed – unsubscribing just involves deletion of that feed.

How do I read an RSS feed?

There are several ways of reading an RSS feed. The first is a standalone program that can receive and read these feeds. This will sit in the background on your toolbar, and display an alert box if one of your subscribed feeds has been updated. You can visit the link immediately, or at any convenient time later on. There are a range of free (and pay-for) RSS readers, for all computer platforms, available to download, such as Amphetadesk | SharpReader | FeedReader. A Google search will find many others. If you use the Firefox browser, the Sage plugin integrates with the browser to display feeds.

To add a feed to your reader program, you must copy/paste the URL of the feed into the program. This URL is usually the one displayed if you click on the RSS/XML button. It will often end in an .xml or .rdf suffix. When you click on orange RSS/XML buttons, you may see an apparently meaningless page of code. It is the URL for this page, in the browser location bar, that you must copy. An easier way is to right-click on orange graphic and select ‘copy shortcut’, which will place the URL of the feed onto your clipboard, ready to paste into your reader program.

Reading an RSS feed in your browser

Some email programs have the ability to read RSS feeds, or can interact with an add-on program for this (e.g. for Outlook).

There are also browser-based solutions to RSS feeds. If you have a Yahoo! profile, you can add an RSS feed directly to your personalized Yahoo! homepage. For sites which offer an ‘Add to my Yahoo’ button: Yahoo RSS graphic   This is a one-click solution.

There are other excellent browser solutions for RSS feeds including:
Bloglines which is slightly more complex to use

You may also see sites offering the one-click ‘add to’ buttons to add a feed to these services, such as the NewsGator button: NewsGator RSS graphic   If you have registered with NewsGator or the appropriate service, clicking the button will automatically add that RSS feed to your personal list of feeds within that service.

Firefox and Internet Explorer 7 browsers have an RSS capability:

More on choosing an RSS reader.

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