Mink Machine

The simplicity of RSS

During the last years, feeds have gone from nerd stuff to essential channels of information. Among other, I’ve been using the excellent web application Bloglines every day for several years now to keep track of my favorite news sources out there. My current subscription list includes about 100 feeds that I follow every day, with another 50 that are read occasionally. It is a technology that brings the world closer.

Or so I thought. If I look outside my little bubble I see a technology not only underused, but actually not used at all by the large audience! Today very few people use feeds and aggregators.

RSS icon RSS feed icon.

Just what are those orange icons anyway? RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is a lightweight multipurpose XML-based format for distributing and aggregating web content. In plain English, it is used to grab news from several web sources and present them in a feed reader such as your browser. There has been several different icons on web sites advertising the existence of RSS files, but lately the major companies agreed to use the orange icon.

What is so great about feeds? It saves a lot of time and gives an instant overview. Instead of browsing to dozens of web sites, all designed differently and taking some time to load, I can see all headlines for the site in just one second and read more about the ones I find interesting. It also eliminates the pulling issue, where you are waiting for a special announcement and don’t enjoy visiting the page every hour. Since we live in an age of short attention spans, this is excellent stuff.

It actually reminds me of the good old mailing lists, but the upside is that the net doesn’t get clogged with all those mails. The downsize is of course that RSS feeds are public, which make them less than ideal replacements for people who prefer to stay off the limelight.

A side effect of using feeds is that you don’t actually visit the page anymore, just reading the feeds, and thus not seeing the advertisement. If you choose to include ads in your feeds, you will probably lose some irritated users, and the rest will certainly not click on the ads since today’s feed readers are mostly computer geeks who avoid clicking on everything even remotely resembling an ad. In fact, I usually don’t even see the banners anymore, since some part of my brain got hardwired to avoid them a lot of years ago.

RSS bookmarks Example of using RSS bookmarks in Firefox.

An excellent place to start is using the built-in RSS reader in Firefox. When installing Firefox 1.5, there is a default item “Latest headlines” in the link field where several news feeds are available at your fingertips. Yes, it’s really that easy!

Next step is to find interesting content and add it to your list of subscriptions. Simply navigate to a site that supports RSS and click on the orange symbol in navigation field to add the feed as a “live bookmark”. Done!

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