RSS Feeds, Aggregators, and Feed Readers

by Darrin Goodman, Web Systems Coordinator
Colorado State University Extension

What is RSS?

RSS
  • RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication
  • RSS is a means by which one can easily obtain fresh content from websites and blogs; this content is usually updated on a regular basis, so the type of content you will find is typically news and regularly updated information.

Note: not all websites provide RSS services because not all websites are producing regularly updated informative content. You probably won't find RSS feeds on a website that sells widgets and other things!

How Does RSS Work?

When an article or chunk of text content is added or updated to a webpage, the RSS feed is delivered to you. RSS feeds can have embedded audio files (podcasts), video, images, etc.

If a website offers RSS feeds, you will usually see a graphic somewhere on the website like one of the many displayed below, and very much like the one that you see to the right under the navigation menu. Usually, you can click on the icon and be taken to a page that contains the RSS feed. If you are using an older web browser, you will see the raw XML language, which is what the RSS feed is written in. You can simply copy the URL in the address bar of your browser (such as http://planttalk.org/rss/feed.xml), and use that link to subscribe to the RSS feed through your RSS Aggregator (more on aggregators and feed readers below).

RSS Feed Graphics

Why use RSS Feeds?

Instead of going out to multiple websites to find the latest news, why not let the news come to you? RSS gives you the ability to create your own personal newspaper; updated news content is delivered to you minute-by-minute.

Using a feed reader, or RSS Aggregator, you can subscribe to the sources you wish to receive news content from rather than having to search for information sources on the web.

What is an Aggregator and why do I need one to receive RSS feeds?

In order to obtain RSS feeds, you will need to use some sort of software that is capable of obtaining the RSS content, such as an RSS Aggregator, or a feed reader (these terms can be used synonymously). An aggregator is similar to an email client software (except for the fact that it collects news, not emails). An aggregator collects your RSS feeds, just as an email client would collect your emails. There are numerous tools available to you that will aggregate your RSS feeds.

An RSS Aggregator can be either in the form of software that you are running on your comptuer (client-side), or it can be accessed through one of several free online services (so you would access your RSS feeds through a web browser). If you are using Microsoft Outlook as your email client, you can also subscribe to RSS through Outlook.

Video: RSS in Plain English (this is geared towards online feed readers)
Video: How to read RSS feeds

 

Screenshots of Feed Readers / Aggregators:

Outlook has RSS capabilities Microsoft Outlook has RSS aggregating capabilities. If you use Outlook 2007 for email, it's easy to subscribe to RSS feeds too!
( click image to enlarge )
RSS in your Web Browser Web Browsers often times have a "live bookmarks" feature where you can subscribe to RSS feeds. Firefox and Internet Explorer both have this capability.
( click image to enlarge )
Client-Side RSS Aggregator Example of client-side RSS aggregator. This would be a software application that you install on your computer.
( click image to enlarge )
Online RSS Aggregator Example of online RSS aggregator. There are several free services that you can use.
( click image to enlarge )

Which RSS Aggregator ("feed reader") should I use?

It really doesn't matter. Choose the feed reader that works best with your daily computing practices:

  • Microsoft Outlook: If you already use a recent version of Outlook as your email client software, then you don't have to install any additional software in order to obtain RSS feeds. Sounds easy? It is!
    ( tutorial coming soon )
  • Web Browser: Because you use a Web Browser in your daily computing activities, one easy way to gain access to RSS feeds is through your Browser's Live Bookmarks feature.
    ( tutorial coming soon )
  • Client-Side RSS Aggregator: There are a number of feed readers that you can install on your computer. The advantage of having the software on your computer as opposed to using an online aggregator is that once you have downloaded your feeds from the Web, you no longer need an internet connection to read most of them. However, a small amount of hard drive space is used up to store the feeds.
    ( tutorial coming soon )
  • Online RSS Aggregator: Numerous online services exist that allow you to subscribe to and check your RSS feeds through your Web Browser (Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, Konqueror, etc.). You will need an internet connection to view your feeds. The advantage of using an online feed reader is that neither the application (software) or the RSS feeds take up any of your hard drive space.
    ( tutorial coming soon )

Go to top of this page



Do you have a question? Try Ask an Expert!

Updated Friday, April 19, 2013