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RSS stands for Really Simply Syndication and has revolutionized how users interact with online content. Maybe you've seen text or image buttons on various websites inviting you to “subscribe via RSS.” Well, what does that mean exactly? What is RSS, what are RSS feeds, and how do you get them to work for you?
Rather than having to check back every single day to see the changes in content on any particular site, RSS feeds give users the ability to simply subscribe to the RSS feed, much like you would subscribe to a newspaper, and then read the updates from the site, delivered via RSS feeds, in what's called a “feed reader.”
RSS feeds benefit those who actually own or publish a website as well since site owners can get their updated content to subscribers much more quickly by submitting feeds to various XML and RSS directories. This is exactly how podcast distribution works.
How RSS Feeds Work?
An RSS feed is a simple text file that is submitted to feed directories, allowing subscribers to see content very soon after it was updated.
This content can be aggregated to be viewed even more easily by using a feed reader. A feed reader, or feed aggregator, is just a really simple way to view all your feeds at one time via one interface
How to Subscribe to an RSS Feed
Assume there are ten sites you like to visit on a daily basis. You spend the time to open the browser and head over to each site, hoping it has something new since the last time you visited. Unfortunately, nothing has changed, so you've wasted a trip to the site and your time as well.
This can be very frustrating and time-consuming. There is definitely a better way to handle this: RSS feeds. There are a few ways to subscribe to an RSS feed as outlined below.
- Find a website you want to keep you updated.
- Look for an orange feed icon (which has become the standard on web sites for RSS). If you happen to see the RSS symbol on a website you want to visit often, click on it and you will be subscribed to the site's RSS feed. it will then start showing up in your feed reader of choice (a feed reader is simply an aggregator of RSS feeds; it makes it easy to read them all in one place).
- Subscribe to this feed. Plenty of sites nowadays will give you a variety of options in order to get you subscribed via RSS to their site. You’ll either see it written out (“subscribe to this site”, for example) or you’ll see a list of icons that include the RSS icon. Clicking on any of these links will enable you to be subscribed to that feed’s content.
- Subscribe via a feed reader button. Most feed readers have made it possible for you to do a “one-click” subscribe: you find a site you’re interested in, you notice that your chosen feed reader has an icon displayed, and you click on that icon. The process differs from reader to reader, but overall, the process is the same and pretty simple – you just click and you’re subscribed.
- Once you've subscribed to a site's feed, you can view updated content in your feed reader, which is basically a way to aggregate all your feeds in one handy place. It's super convenient, and once you realize how much time you're saving, you'll wonder how you ever got along without RSS feeds.
What is a Feed Reader?
All feed readers are pretty similar; they make it possible for you to quickly scan headlines and/or full stories at a glance, from many different providers, all in one place.
There are many different types of feed readers available to you for free on the internet that fall into five distinct categories. Which you use will depend on how you want to read your feeds.
Web-based Feed Readers
If you want to read all your feeds from within your browser, you want a Web-based feed reader (these are the most convenient and easy to set up). An example of Web-based feed readers is Feedly.
Desktop Feed Readers
If you want to read all your feeds separate from your browser and have something actually installed onto your system, you want a desktop feed reader. These usually come with more powerful features than the Web-based feed readers, but are definitely for the more technologically advanced crowd.
Browser Built-in Feed Readers
Some browsers have a built-in feed reader. There are a ton of extensions and plugins that provide this functionality for you. Some examples include Firefox's Live Bookmarks, Opera, and Internet Explorer.
Email-based Feed Readers
If you would like all of your feeds delivered to you via email, you’re going to want to check out an email-based feed reader. Examples of email-based feed readers are Mozilla Thunderbird and Google Alerts. You can adjust the rate of emails you get with each one of these email-based feed readers.
Mobile Feed Readers
More and more, people are getting their Web search content as they’re out and about through a variety of mobile devices. If you are one of these people, you might want to check out one of these feed readers/access services made especially for mobile devices: these include the afore-mentioned Feedly, as well as Flipboard or Twitter.
What Can You Do With an RSS Feed?
Once you're completely up to speed on RSS, you'll realize that there are so many different ways that you can use RSS feeds to help you in your Web searching and daily life.
- If you love Google News, but need more specialized news, you can create a specialized Google News alert that's delivered to you via an RSS feed.
- YouTube users will love this one: you can follow your favorite YouTuber, channel, or key phrase via RSS feeds. If you're especially interested in Family Guy clips, there is a way to set up a feed for them. This is what your feed would look like: www.youtube.com/rss/tag/family+guy.rss.
- Simply add this to your feed reader via the subscribe or add feed option and you are good to go.
- Are you looking for something on Craigslist? Every category has an RSS feed unique to that category, and you can even program your parameters. For example, say you're looking for a leather couch between $400 and $600 – you can specify that within the Furniture category and have results delivered to you.
- This is how you would set up a Craigslist RSS feed. Navigate to what you've been looking for, for example, apartments in San Francisco. It is likely you don't want ALL the listings for ALL the apartments, so use the search field at the top to narrow your search.
- Once you have your search parameters set, scroll all the way to the bottom of the page. You'll see a link for RSS there.
- Click on that link, and you'll be asked which RSS reader you'd like to have the search results for your new search put into. Now, instead of checking Craigslist every day and having to put your search criteria in over and over, you've got a personalized search coming directly to you.
- Any tag in the social bookmarking site Reddit, whether that may be freeware, popular, Apple, etc., have an RSS feed that you can subscribe to.
- Fans of Digg will appreciate that any user, tag, or featured page (such as the homepage) can be subscribed to via an RSS tag.
- All you foodies out there will love the convenience of getting recipes and tips delivered right to you: the Food Network has an RSS feed titled “Food Network Highlights” that brings the very best of this stellar site to you.
- If you're looking for a job, you can craft your own RSS feeds at Monster.com, or use one of their own pre-programmed RSS feeds instead. To craft your own, simply do a search for your specific needs, and then subscribe to the search results via your feed reader of choice.
Understanding RSS Feeds for Podcasting
You Can Make Your Own RSS Feed
There are essentially three ways to make your own RSS feeds.
- Automatically from a content-management system (such as WordPress, Drupal, or LibSyn)
- Manually with a standalone application like Feeder
- By hand with any text- or code-editor
If you want to live a long and happy life, I recommend letting your RSS feed be created automatically for you with intelligent software. You still have to enter the information for the feed—title, description, keywords, and each individual post—but you do it through an easy-to-learn system like WordPress. You will be happy you did so.
If you have a WordPress website, then you already have more RSS feeds than you would ever need! Just add /feed to the end of your domain content management and you'll get your default site-wide RSS feed. (If you don't have permalinks set, use /?feed=rss instead.) Every time you publish a new post, WordPress automatically updates your RSS feed so that newsreaders and podcast apps can see the latest updates. This is all done for you by WordPress itself.
Content-management systems (CMS) often create several RSS feeds, such as for each category, media format, tag, or search result. WordPress is no different.
Why It Is A Good Idea to Own Your Own Podcast Feed
There are many ways to make RSS feeds from different services, and other services to enhance your RSS feeds. You need to be extremely careful! Your RSS feed is how your subscribers get your content. If you give them someone else's URL that you can't control, then you don't truly own your audience.
Soundcloud is a big offender in this way. While they're a great platform with cool options, the beta podcast feature often produces invalid code. But what's even worse is that if you ever want to leave Soundcloud and you published your podcast with their RSS feed, you can't keep your current subscribers. This problem happens with many other platforms, like Podbean, Tumblr, Blogspot, and more.
If you use a third-party for your RSS feed and you move to a different provider, be sure to attach a 301 redirect to the old feed and point it to the new feed.
There are only three ways to keep your audience from being held hostage by these providers.
- You can use FeedBurner or some other third-party feed service. Run your feed through them and then publish your other feed. But take caution here, too! You may fall into the same problem, which leads to the next option.
- You should implement a permanent 301 redirect. Setup a redirect so any request for your old RSS feed gets automatically forwarded to the new RSS feed. These redirects should never be removed.
- Add the <itunes:new-feed-url> tag. This is more technical but potentially more possible with some hosts. But it only works for iTunes and other apps that use the iTunes API.
Third-party, hosted platforms usually don't offer any such freedoms. So if you want to leave, you'll lose your audience, lose your iTunes reviews (unless you beg Apple), or you'll have to ask your audience to unsubscribe and resubscribe (don't do that!).
The best way to own your RSS feed is if you control the URL you publish in podcast directories. This could be some technical backend stuff going on, or that the RSS feed is hosted on your own domain with WordPress or something similar.
The only third-parties you can trust with your RSS feed are LibSyn and Blubrry. They both allow you to implement a permanent 301 redirect and the <itunes:new-feed-url> in your feed from their service.
FeedBurner's future is in question, but at least even they allow you to either place a permanent 301 redirect or use your own domain. If you must use a third-party, like Soundcloud or Podbean, for your podcast, then run the feed through FeedBurner and submit that URL to iTunes. Otherwise, say goodbye to your subscribers.
Why Podcasters Need a Podcast-only RSS Feed
Most podcasters have websites that contain blog posts and podcast episodes. This might be hurting your podcast growth by using your site-wide RSS feed. You can use a podcast-only feed for iTunes and other podcast directories so that your blog posts don't take up
You can use PowerPress's automatic feed by adding /feed/podcast to your
What to Do With Your RSS Feed
If you have setup your sites well, then you should have a site-wide RSS feed (blog posts and podcast episodes) and a podcast-only feed.
Submit the podcast-only feed to podcast directories, like iTunes, Stitcher, BlackBerry, Microsoft, and other mobile apps.
Link to the site-wide RSS
I suggest my Simple Social Icons plugin for making RSS and even podcast-only-RSS icons anywhere n your WordPress website.
RSS-Simple, But Amazingly Convenient
Now you know that RSS feeds are basically simple text files that, once submitted to feed directories, will allow subscribers to see content within a very short time after it's updated (sometimes as short as 30 minutes or less; it's getting faster all the time). Using RSS in your online browsing habits can greatly streamline and simplify how you get your content. Using RSS in your own site will help your listeners out a great deal.