RSS feeds: A primer

rss-iconIf you don’t know what an RSS feed is, then this post is for you. RSS is an abbreviation for Really Simple Syndication. It is a useful way for internet users to compile loads of information all in one place.

The advantage of using RSS feeds is that they are updated in real time so you know when a site you regularly visit is updated with new content. If you find yourself visiting the same sites over and over again, you may want to add those sites to your RSS aggregator. An RSS aggregator is an online tool that keeps track of all of the websites that you want to read.

This is how I explained it to my mom, “An RSS feed aggregator is kind of like an email inbox for your favorite websites. When a website you’d like to follow is updated, you receive a notice in your ‘inbox.'”

So how do you go about tracking your favorite sites via RSS feeds? Well, step one is to choose an RSS feed reader. Here are some options:

Google Reader: This is a web based aggregator that is very popular and easy to use. You need a Google user account to access the service, but it’s free. Once you’ve set up your account and added your favorite feeds, you can group your feeds by categories.

NewsGator: This service has options for both Windows (Feed Demon) and Mac (NetNewsWire) and they have a very informative video to get you started.

Ensembli: This is a newer aggregator that claims to work with you and over time learns what interests you. From their site:

The more you read, discard, or even ignore the stories Ensembli finds, the more it’ll be able to locate the stories that you’ll really like. Just to be extra clever, as your tastes change, Ensembli will be able to automagically keep up with you!

Bloglines: Bloglines has a tagline I like, “It’s the same internet minus the clutter.” It is also web based, like Google Reader. You can learn more about Bloglines here.

After you have chosen your aggregator, you can start adding your favorite sites that you’d like to track. You can easily do this by clicking on a site’s feed button. The RSS feed icon is like the orange image in the top of this post. Simply click on a site’s RSS icon and you will then see the feed link in your browser’s address bar. You can then add that link to your aggregator.

Once your aggregator is set up, don’t forget to check it to read all your updates. Just be sure to add Unclutterer’s feed to your list. Or, if you’ve been reading Unclutterer for more than a year, check out our RSS feed without the A Year Ago posts. When you become a savvy RSS feed reader, you might feel comfortable creating customized feeds using Yahoo! Pipes.

35 Comments for “RSS feeds: A primer”

  1. posted by Interesting tidbits « The Haitian Queen on

    […] help with RSS feeds? A good start to a minimalist […]

  2. posted by Theresa on

    OMG – thank you for this ridiculously simple explanation, I’ve been wondering about what RSS was for so long and never remembered to “Google” it – thank you – it all makes sense now! I love your website, by the way!

  3. posted by Leah on

    Thank you so much for this post. I’ve been wondering exactly how to use the RSS feeds and this makes it easy to start. Another example of how you guys are great at breaking down simple things and making them user-friendly to help with uncluttering!

  4. posted by Dream Mom on

    I just love feeds. They are a huge timesaver.

  5. posted by Dana on

    Great post.

    As for readers: what about Rososo? Their tagline: “The peaceful newsreader.” It’s my favorite. Least amount of clutter and so simple to use.

  6. posted by Kevin on

    Is it ironic that I read this from my RSS reader?

  7. posted by Shawn on

    I read this in my google reader too, but came here to comment 🙂

    I didn’t bother setting up an RSS reader for ages. I knew it was more efficient or whatever, but figured it couldn’t be that great. Now that I have caved, I admit it is a far more efficient use of my time. I keep up on all the sites I find interesting in just minutes a day, as opposed to hours of mindless surfing. Took me about a week to get “converted” in my mind. Now my only problem is this extra spare time!

    I use google reader, and once I adjusted to using the star button to save things I wanted to read later, it is great. I use the google custom home page to see news trickling in throughout the day while I do other stuff.

  8. posted by Sherri (Serene Journey) on

    Fantastic description of RSS and the readers. I use google reader and I think it’s fantastic – simple and easy to use. I liken it to a one stop shop but for all your favorite websites.

  9. posted by Karen on

    I use Bloglines, and I love it. I can check dozens of sites in one glance. But it seems like Unclutterer takes a particularly long time to update – sometimes I don’t get the new postings until the next day. It may be my settings, but I don’t have that problem with my other feeds.

  10. posted by christa on

    I came here (via rss) looking to see how to CREATE one for my website. Guess I’ll have to look elsewhere.

  11. posted by Schlappette on

    I have to put in a plug for Netvibes: ( Netvibes has been my feed reader of choice for a few years now.

  12. posted by Catherine Cantieri, Sorted on

    I love my Google Reader, but I am intrigued by Ensembli. Does anybody on here use it? Any critiques or recommendations?

  13. posted by Trevor Bramble on

    @Matt – Great work. I’m going to use this as a reference when educating others from now on.

    @christa – I find the Atom protocol documentation [] very instructive. But if you’re using a blog/CMS (WordPress, for example) you might already be generating a feed anyway.

  14. posted by An easier way to keep up with websites and blogs » Mark Eric Photo Journal on

    […] great article on this subject came through my reader (Google Reader) this morning from, so I thought I would  share.    Click here to read […]

  15. posted by Kelly on

    Bloglines user here, too. Love it! I was mystified by RSS until about a year ago when I stumbled upon a similar explanation and it clicked. SO MUCH better than bookmarking sites and manually checking for new posts. Huge time saver.


    I think in some ways, it’s added to my clutter. I have (checking) 1093 posts saved in my reader. Do you think I’ll ever go back and reread all of those? Probably not. Granted, I subscribe to Foodgawker (love photography, love food) which accounts for a little more than half of those posts. But still. I think it’s something I have to address!

  16. posted by Kelly on

    Karen – I have similar issues with Bloglines updating slowly, but across the board. I haven’t taken the time to figure out how delayed they are, but it can be significant.

  17. posted by Imran Ali on

    We’ve taken a slightly different approach at Ensembli ( by creating ‘inboxes’ for topics you’d like to follow, rather than websites you’d like to follow.

    We’re trying to make RSS universal, by keeping things simple…just tell us what you’re interested in and we’ll find the RSS feeds and sites that’re most relevant to you…as well a learning how your tastes change over time 🙂

  18. posted by dco on

    There’s also a great video explaining RSS here:
    it runs about 4 minutes.

  19. posted by Ron C on

    Just a quick note – Safari has had RSS built in for quite some time. Add one more to the count of people who get here via RSS…

    Keep up the good work!

  20. posted by April on

    @Kelly – re: having more RSS posts to read than you will ever have time for, I find I have a similar problem with my DVR. I *love* my DVR, but at the same time I have developed problems with DVR “clutter” – I have all these great shows recorded that I hate to delete, because gee, they all sound so interesting – but I will never spend that many hours watching TV! It’s a silly problem to have, but a problem nonetheless …

  21. posted by Sheryl on

    I use Sage Too – it’s a Firefox extension that’s very lightweight (no bells and whistles that I don’t need.)I love it! 🙂

    I tried Bloglines, but had problems with it and went back to this.

  22. posted by Wade Dorrell on

    Great post, but for every 1 person that discovers RSS, there are 2 discovering Twitter, which provides both a way to get a “ping” when someone blogs, as well as to carry on lighter discussion, and to find new people/content.

    Anyone have a link to the recent article about declining RSS use?

  23. posted by Drew on

    I love Sage, the Firefox extension. It’s remarkably uncluttered. You can see the menu of the sites you follow, and any sites that have new posts since you last checked them are highlighted, so no repeated notifications of sites that post frequently, just a signal that there’s new content. Very managable.

  24. posted by Safari Out, Firefox Back In « When Are We Going to California? on

    […] Reader – Not sure what RSS feeds are? Learn here. They will make browsing the web and keeping up with your favorite sites easier. There are many […]

  25. posted by Jessiejack on

    Thanks for the info — I had no idea what RSS meant til I read this and have just signed up for a trial at Goggle. thanks for this great web site!

  26. posted by Zach on

    Excellent post Matt! Personally, I favor Google Reader, since it is cloud based and allows me to clear my news inbox while I’m on my lunch break.

  27. posted by Gerard on

    In reply to Catherine I’m a regular Google reader user but I have also been using Ensembli for a while now. They are complimentary tools, google reader I use to keep up with sites I visit, such as this one, and Ensembli goes out and finds articles on topics I am interested in from web sites I would never normally go to. Sometimes there is an overlap between the two. Ensembli also gets better over time as you train it to understand more accurately what you are interested in. I love the interface too, it’s very simple but also very usable and intuitive

  28. posted by Tomas on

    Just an FYI, you can use PostRank (formerly AideRSS) to help declutter your feeds once they’ve grown out of control… which tends to happen when you subscribe to too many sites. 😉

  29. posted by What the Heck Does RSS Mean? | Friendly Web Tools Blog on

    […] Read and enjoy: RSS feeds: A primer […]

  30. posted by oksoimnotperfect on

    Thanks for explaining it … off I go to get one set up with my first site… Unclutterer!

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  34. posted by DianaD on

    A+ and thank you! I have tweeted questions about this and wondered! Next, how do you put someone’s “button” on your blog? or link? What’s awidget? LOL thanks, if you can!

  35. posted by Ken Maisle on

    News Anchor will read the RSS articles to you just like a television show, freeing you to do other stuff.

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