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Fluff, Hacks

Blog Tips – Part IV RSS Feeds

Once you’ve got Navigation down (Blog Tips – Part I), Links, Landing & Leaving (Blog Tips – Part II), and Comments, Searching & Tags  (Blog Tips – Part III) the next skill-set are RSS Feeds.

The RSS Feed Symbol

RSS Icon

RSS Feeds links are indicated by this Icon. They are all over the web, and if you didn’t know about RSS until just now you probably just haven’t noticed them.

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, and once again, if you are not a geek you will have absolutely no idea of what that means, even after I just defined it for you! Right.

So let’s jump in.

It will help if we substitute the word ‘subscription’ for ‘syndication’ , so let’s call it Really Simple Subscriptions. Rather than get into the technical details, let’s just say it’s an easy way for you to get periodic updates from lots of websites, without you having to go to each website yourself to check. It can be a huge time saver.

So for example, you could subscribe to our blog, and oh by the way, say the New York Times or the Washington Post, or whatever.

In order to get an RSS feed you need 3 things:

  • A content provider or publisher. That’s us, this blog. Or the NY Times. Take your pick.  I’m not necessarily claiming intellectual equivalence, but you can decide.
  • The RSS Feed link, located at the publisher’s website. This indicates to you as a potential subscriber that you can subscribe to the content of the page containing that RSS Icon.
  • An RSS Reader. This is another piece of software which captures the feed, and lets you read it; hence the amazingly descriptive term “Reader”. It was a missed opportunity that the geeks who created the software didn’t call it something like “Transporter” for the sake of confusion.

The thing that puts most people off RSS is that they either don’t know about, or want to deal with, the Reader. Readers used to be confusing and opaque.

You might think that me calling them confusing and opaque was redundant; but the early Readers were so bad, that sentence was a compliment.

But, things are different now. Google has come to our rescue. Although there are many other fine Readers out there I am only going to talk about Google’s.  I’ll show you where to find it, and how to set it up to subscribe to our (and other) blogs or Feeds.

Let’s get started.

First click on this link, which will open a new browser window and take you to http://reader.google.com   If you already have a Google Account the reader will open up automatically. If you haven’t used Google Reader before you may have to sign in to your existing account. If you don’t have a Google Account you’ll have to sign up for one. In this case click on the Create An Account button and follow the instructions.

[The Google Account is free, and there are all sorts of benefits, beyond the scope of this tutorial; I highly recommend it. However if you don’t want to sign up, then do a search on RSS Reader and find yourself another reader. There is one built into IE 8, and it’s not too hard to set up; you will need to know the url address of our Feed, which you will find below. ]

When you have the Google Reader open, the upper left corner of the screen will have a little button labeled “Add a subscription”.

Click on Add a subscription

Click on Add a subscription

After clicking on the Add button, you will be prompted to “Enter a search term to find feeds or paste a feed url”. You should now enter this exactly, including the / symbols but without the quotation marks.

For Bob’s Blog enter:  “http://www.notamystery.com/feed/”

For Leslie’s Blog enter: “http://www.justanothermystery.com/feed/”

then click on the Add button.

[If you are using another reader use that url as the address of the feed.]

And that’s all there is to it. It will take a bit of clicking around in the Google Reader to get familiar with its features. Click on the Help button, top right of the Reader page and there will be all sorts of information to make life understandable.

You can add an unlimited number of feeds from newspapers and other blogs. When you go to your Reader page at http://reader.google.com and hit Refresh all your feeds will update themselves at once and you’ll be able to read the updates or jump to the source site of your choice.

It’s a huge time saver. And we are into time savers.

And, there are other places you can add these feeds. For example I have a customized start page on Yahoo and also Google. Both of those allow you to add an RSS Feed, just use the url’s we described:

http://www.notamystery.com/feed/

http://www.justanothermystery.com/feed/

You will find more detailed instructions for adding an RSS feed to your home page in Blog Tips – Part IVa

I’d like to say that’s all folks, but I need to add a note to keep you from going down several ratholes which are laying in wait.

  • You would think it easier to just click on the RSS Feed Icon at the top of our blog and add the feed to your Reader. Oh, silly you. Yes, this does work perfectly fine: but only if you are using the Firefox browser. If you are using Google’s Chrome browser it puts up gibberish (tech term) and doesn’t work. No I’m not kidding. If you are using Microsoft’s IE 8 it will add our feed, but only into IE 8, no choice of other Readers.
  • So if you are using Firefox, just click away on our icon and you can actually choose what Reader you wish to use: we recommend picking Google and then clicking the check box to always use Google. Then you can repeat this process on any website where you see the Feed Icon.
  • If you are using Google Chrome or IE 8 then we recommend you follow our instructions above and sign up from within Google Reader.

At least you can avoid a few gotchas today!

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