RSS

bpholt's picture

RSS iconRSS, or Really Simple Syndication, is a way for frequent reader of a website to be automatically notified when that website publishes new content. Most popular websites publish RSS feeds, including The Economist, xkcd, Mark Tupper’s Illini blog, CNN, PlanetHolt.com, and more.

The benefits of using RSS are obvious. One no longer has to manually browse to frequently-read sites to determine when new content is available. For sites that only publish content every few days (*cough*… PlanetHolt), this is a big time-saver. Many RSS readers also keep track of which stories have been read, helping to avoid confusion.

Read on for instructions on subscribing to PlanetHolt.com’s RSS feed, in Safari 3, Firefox 3, and Internet Explorer 7.

Using RSS

  1. Safari
  2. Firefox 3
  3. Internet Explorer 7
  4. General Considerations

Safari

Safari is the default web browser on the Mac (Safari is also available for Windows. This explanation will only discuss use on the Mac.). It supports subscribing to RSS feeds either within the browser itself, or through Mail.app. While both are perfectly good options, I will focus on subscribing to feeds within the browser itself.

Safari indicates the presence of available feeds with a (non-standard) blue RSS icon to the right of the web site's address.

Safari: Location of the RSS icon

Clicking on the icon will reveal a list of available feeds. Click on one of the available feeds to load it in the browser window. (If only one feed is available, it will be loaded immediately.)

Safari: Link in the Bookmark Bar

Subscribing to the feed is as easy as adding it to the list of bookmarks. Clicking the “Add a bookmark for the current page” button will reveal the RSS Bookmark sheet.

Safari: Bookmark the RSS Feed

Update the name, if necessary, and indicate whether the feed should appear in Safari or Mail. I like to place my feed subscriptions in my Bookmarks Bar, because when new content is available, the number of unread items will appear in parentheses after the bookmark's name.

See also: General Considerations

Firefox 3

Firefox is available on a large number of platforms, including Mac, Linux, and Windows. The behavior on each should be identical, so while these screenshots are from the Mac version, the same steps should apply on any supported platform.

Firefox indicates the availability of one or more feeds with the presence of a blue RSS icon in the address bar.

Location of RSS icon in Firefox 3

Clicking on the icon will reveal a list of available feeds (if multiple feeds are available) or will allow the feed to be bookmarked.

Firefox: Bookmark the feed

Clicking on the bookmark will reveal a list of available content delivered by the feed.

Firefox: Display the feed content

See also: General Considerations

Internet Explorer 7

Internet Explorer 7 (If you’re still using IE6, for the love of all that is holy, upgrade to at least 7 now!) is the first version of Microsoft’s browser to support RSS natively. It is, of course, only available on Windows.

By default in Internet Explorer, the RSS icon appears on the same horizontal level as the tab bar, below the search box. It appears with a dull gray color if no feeds are available, and in the standard orange if one or more are detected.

Location of RSS icon in Internet Explorer 7

Once a feed is selected from the list, it will load in the current tab. Feeds to which you have not yet subscribed will appear with the following text above the feed content:

Internet Explorer: unsubscribed feed description

Clicking the “Subscribe to this feed” link will add the feed to your Favorites. You will have the opportunity to specify the title of the feed along with a location within your Favorites:

Internet Explorer: Subscribe to this Feed options

After clicking Subscribe, Internet Explorer will begin checking it for new content on a regular basis. The following text will appear, confirming that the feed has been successfully added to the Favorites:

Internet Explorer: Feed Subscription success message

In your Favorites, click the Feeds button to view the list of subscribed feeds.  Hover the mouse over the feed to learn when it was last updated and how many new posts are available.

Internet Explorer: Feed Description

See also: General Considerations

General Considerations

  • Many sites offer multiple feeds. These feeds could indicate that the site supports a number of technical feed formats, or they could represent different categories of content available from the site. For example, a list of the feeds available from Economist.com shows that they offer feeds about their “Correspondent’s diary” features, daily charts, daily columns, full print edition, and news analysis. It is clear that these five feeds represent different categories of content available from The Economist.

    On the other hand, Mark Tupper’s Illini blog offers feeds entitled “RSS 2.0” and “Atom 0.3”. In this case, each feed represents the same content, published in multiple formats. Today’s browsers support all of the major feed formats, so it normally doesn’t matter which is selected, but I normally use RSS 2.0 if given a choice.

  • Advanced users, or users who would like to access their list of subscribed feeds from multiple computers, often use online aggregators like Google Reader or BlogLines. These services allow their users to subscribe to feeds from within their interface, and then integrate and display content from all the subscribed feeds in one place. Personally, I prefer the browser-based approach described above, but many do appreciate accessing their feeds from the web.