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The Quixotic Engineer

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

A Beginner's Guide to RSS Feeds

RSS Logo

I have a confession: I hate change. I get so comfortable doing things a certain way that I sometimes resist changes that I know will be good for me in the long run. This gives you a bit of context as to why I'm usually about a year or two behind in upgrading my internet browser and other software. I fight tooth and nail to keep my old version, and only grudgingly submit to an upgrade.

When I finally did upgrade to IE7 (if you're wondering why I haven't switched to Firefox, consult the above paragraph), I found a host of features that I actually really enjoyed. As someone who really enjoys blogs and webcomics, I especially enjoyed the RSS Feeds function. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I thought I'd write a quick guide to help my fellow luddites embrace this technological wonder.

What is an RSS Feed?

Websites such as blogs and webcomics syndicate new content at certain intervals. The old fashioned way to check if a website had new content was simply to visit it and check. However, if a website adds new content infrequently or irregularly (I'm lookin' at you, VG Cats) this can become time-consuming and frustrating. Wouldn't it be nice if there was a way for website owners to tell interested users that new content was available?

The solution is an RSS Feed (an acronym for Really Simple Syndication, believe it or not). Website owners create a feed site for their page on which they publish new syndicated content. Using a compatible internet browser (or an aggregator), a user can subscribe to these feeds (more on that later). Once subscribed, the browser will check for new content from that feed according to a time schedule and notify the user when new content is found.

How do I subscribe to a feed?

Here is a step-by-step guide to using feeds in Internet Explorer 7 and Firefox 2.0.0:

1. Surf over to a site that you'd like to subscribe to. For this example, we'll use my site, The Quixotic Engineer. If a website has an RSS Feed available (not all sites do), the RSS Button on your browser will turn orange. If so, click the RSS button (picture below). Alternately, there might be a button on the page labeled "Feed Site" or "RSS Feed" that should link you to their site feed.

RSS Button - Internet ExplorerRSS Button - Firefox

2. The site you will find yourself on is the site's feed. There should be box at the top of the page similar to the one in the picture below (click to enlarge). Click on the "Subscribe to this feed" button to do exactly that.

Subscribe to this Feed - Internet ExplorerSubscribe to this Feed - Firefox

OK, I've subscribed to a feed, what now?

Here's where IE7 and Firefox divert a little.

  • In Internet Explorer, feeds are saved under the "Feeds" portion of the favorites menu. To get there, first click the yellow star in the top left corner of the screen, then click on "Feeds". All the feeds that you've added will be here, sorted in alphabetical order. Feeds with unread content are bolded. If you right click on the feed, you can specify how often you would like the computer to check for new content.
  • Feed Library - Internet Explorer
  • In Firefox, using what is called "Live Bookmarking", feeds are treated like a favorites subfolder which can be moved anywhere in your favorites folder. Click on a feed and it will open like a folder, showing the latest posts from that site. This is only one option for handling RSS feeds in Firefox, however. There seem to be add-ons that let you handle feeds differently according to your preference. If you're reading this post and have experience with Firefox RSS, please leave a comment and I will alter this post accordingly (and credit you, of course). Feed Library - Firefox

My limited experience with Firefox notwithstanding, I hope that you, my fellow slow adapter, are convinced and have the tools necessary to start creating your own RSS library. Godspeed.



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