The Three Basics of Understanding and Using News Feeds

When I try to tell people about how wonderful RSS news feeds are, I always get the question, “What are news feeds?” First of all, it is helpful to know where news feeds came from. In November of 1994, a man named Dave Winer was left to try and automate processes for the San Francisco online newspaper while workers were striking. This got him thinking about online publication and syndication. Not long after that, the coding was born for news feeds, and now hundreds of thousands of websites use RSS to syndicate their content to the masses.

News feeds are essentially subscriptions to updates and content from a website or a blog, which you peruse, sort, and read from a specialized program. Here are three things that you need to know to better understand news feeds.

  1. Find a reader.
  2. Feeds are most easily read when they are added into feed readers, or content aggregator websites. Think of them like email accounts solely for the purpose of receiving updates from the websites and blogs that you will subscribe to. The main difference being that, unlike email, these readers are designed for displaying and organizing website and blog content. Some feed readers include the Digg reader, Feedly, RSS Bot, FlowReader, and SilverReader.

  3. Find feeds and add them to the reader.
  4. You can find feeds by locating them manually on a website. They will either be labeled with the little orange icon, or by name. A slightly easier way to find feeds is to use an RSS feed finder, which might be integrated into your content aggregator, or could be a standalone website, like a search engine. Some of these RSS search engines will even allow you to preview the feed as you sift through the results list of RSS feeds.

    You can make custom news feeds after you have picked a feed just by adding filters, or cherry picking which feeds you read every day in your feed reader, and which ones you consider optional. Settings in a feed reader will let you customize the feeds.

  5. Do more with feeds.
  6. Did you know you can display RSS feeds on websites? If you have a blog or website that could benefit from displaying content from other related websites, then you can find coding and widgets to have RSS feeds pop up and display right inside of your own website. No content aggregator or feed reader needed!

So what are news feeds? They are an incredible tool for sharing information online, sifting through a large amount of content quickly, saving time, and keeping you connected to all of the websites and blogs that you care about.

Tell us, what are news feeds to you?