Ever wonder how geeks stay connected with their favorite blogs and writers? Read on to learn about RSS feeds and how easy they are to use with these 45 apps, services, and websites that can help you stay current.
Note: Of course, our more geeky readers are going to understand a lot of this already, which is why we included 45 great services that you might not have heard about before. Keep reading for more, or give your advice to the newbies in the comments.
What is RSS, and What is a Feed?
RSS stands for Real Simple Syndication and is one of the most common ways internet publishers push out new online content. While it is easy enough to simply visit the sites, blogs, and online magazines that publish content you like, it is easier than you might think to put your computer to work fetching content for you. Many websites provide at least one of the most common Syndication feed types; in fact free tools like Blogger or WordPress can create websites that can allow nearly any user to syndicate content with ease.
RSS files are not particularly complicated… in fact they are easy to code and update by hand, even though they are usually automatically updated by publishing software. Illustrated above is a simple RSS .xml file from Wikipedia. Websites can have multiple RSS feeds, allowing readers to subscribe to various sub categories of content from sites, for instance: subscription by author, tag, category, or in some cases, a simplified “lead story” only subscription hitting only the highlighted stories of the day. In every situation, the feed is essentially a list that will tell a program where to find the content you want. Subscribing is as simple as finding the subscribe button, clicking the RSS icon, or typing a URL. Read on!
Subscribe, and Let Content Come to You
So how do you subscribe to websites? You’ll need some form of application, either on the web, in a stand-alone application, or an app on your mobile device. Many websites like How-To Geek have an obvious “subscribe” button. But applications also allow for manual entry of RSS feed website addresses.
If you can’t find a “subscribe” button, you can go to your Feed Reader and simply “Add a Subscription.” Here’s how it looks in Google Reader.
You can copy and paste a website into the tool, or type the website you’re hoping to subscribe to.
Incredibly enough, it is no more difficult than that. However, before you can subscribe, you’ll need a program or service to read your subscriptions. How-To Geek has helpfully compiled a list of 45 Services, Sites, and Apps that can help you find, subscribe, control, sort, and read your favorite sites on a daily basis and stay up to date like a true geek.
Web-Based Feed Readers
Some of the best readers are entirely web-based and are tied to accounts with various websites, and not to applications on any one computer. The benefit of this is that you can subscribe on one computer and read your subscriptions on another. If you like to read your favorite webcomics and news at work, you’ll find this invaluable.
- Google Reader: Uses your Google account and is one of the best readers available. HTG Author recommended.
- iGoogle Gadgets: Allows users to create custom widgets based on latest posts from an RSS feed. If you use iGoogle as your homepage, you may want enjoy decorating it with the most current stories from your favorite sites.
- My Yahoo: Useful if you already have a Yahoo mail account you prefer to keep your subscriptions tied into. Customizable with RSS feeds.
- My MSN: Similar to My Yahoo, My MSN is for those of us that would like our subscriptions tied into our Windows Live, Hotmail, or MSN Accounts.
- Blogger: Blogger dashboard has a built in RSS reading feature, complete with more social features like public following. Integrates into Google Reader.
Email Clients With RSS Feed Features
As an usual bonus feature, many common mail clients have built-in RSS reading features. While most of us could live our whole lives without knowing this, it can be fun to have a selection of websites to read in a program most of us use everyday for work.
- Mac Mail: Free mail client bundled with OS X allows simple RSS subscribing.
- Outlook 2010: Part of the Microsoft Office suite, with similar RSS subscribing functionality .
Browsers with RSS Feed Features
- Firefox: Firefox comes bundled with Live Bookmarks, which are bookmarks that list the most current articles in any site with a feed. A perfectly easy and fine way to use RSS.
- Opera: That weird browser nobody seems to use is actually feature rich and packed with goodies, including a full-featured email client and RSS reader.
- Internet Explorer: The former scourge of the internet offers built-in RSS subscribing capability.
Browser Extensions for RSS Feeds
- RSS Extension For Chrome: In an odd oversight by Google, Chrome does not have out of the box RSS subscribing. This extension (also from Google) remedies this.
Standalone Windows Applications
While they are not cross platform, cloud-based, or a bonus surprise in some other software package, some users will appreciate the features of a dedicated RSS reader. Which one is right for you?
Social Bookmarking and Link Sharing
Incredibly useful and fun, not only for reading your favorite content, but also for discovering new content you might never have seen! Social Bookmarking is a way of saving your favorite websites, recommending them to friends, and having friends and total strangers recommend them to you.
- Stumbleupon: A Firefox and Internet Explorer add-on, with a crude version already working for Google Chrome. Stumbleupon allows users to “channelsurf” the internet with the “Stumble” button. HTG Author recommended.
- Digg: Popular link sharing website where users chose to share or bury news, files, images, and links that they enjoy.
- Reddit: Similar to Digg, Reddit is spartan in design, but functional, and full of fun and ridiculous content.
- Delicious: The bookmarking site in the news recently for potentially being sold by Yahoo. Still functioning, still worth using (for now).
- Diigo: Attractive and feature rich, How-To Geek has already covered how to import your Delicious.com bookmarks to Diigo.
- Yahoo Buzz: A digg clone from Yahoo.
- Google Buzz: The controversial and much hyped link sharing service built into gmail.
- Pinboard.in: A spartan and functional pay service that allows users to browse their own tag clouds and create PDF versions of their bookmarked sites.
Content-based and Grouped Blog Directories
Directories are category based lists of popular blogs, broken down by broad types, categories or genres. Each of them have their own particular look, and most are usually manually moderated. Because so many of them have moderated submissions, you may find listings unique to each service. Searching directories may be a little old-fashioned, but can be a great way to discover quality sites relevant to your interests.
Social Networking and Link Sharing
While readers that don’t know about Twitter and Facebook are few and far between, Social Networks are great ways to keep up with the most important or interesting stories from your favorite content providers. Find and follow your favorite writers—many of them share content through Twitter or Facebook, with some content exclusive to that author’s particular feed.
- Twitter: Search for your favorite authors, blogs, webpages, or artists. “Following” them on Twitter is similar to using RSS feeds, giving you a stream of content they want to share with you.
- Facebook: Serach for your favorite authors, blogs, webpages, or artists. Again, your Facebook feed will operate similar to an RSS feed, allowing you to subscribe to pages by clicking the “Like” button.
- Tumblr: A mashup of Social Networking sites like Facebook and simple, web-based blogging platforms like Blogger. Tumblr is a web-based feed reader with sharing, reblogging, and more social functions.
Link and Content Saving, and Offline Reading
Dead simple and easy to use, link and content saving simply store your selected links for your later perusal, either online or off. Great for readers that read on multiple computers.
- Instapaper: A ridiculously simple web application that doesn’t even require logging in for use. Download their bookmarklet and use it to simply, easily save interesting web pages to read later.
- Evernote: Browser extension and stand alone-application for saving webpages, pictures, and other great content. Allows you to tag your pages, easily search, and find them later.
- Yahoo Bookmarks: Simple cloud based bookmarking service for those of us that wish to use our Yahoo accounts.
- Google Bookmarks: Simple cloud-based bookmarking service for those of us that wish to use our Google accounts.
Apple iOS Mobile
- Reeder: For the iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad owner on the go. Subscribe and read feeds and deliver them straight to your Apple device.
Google Android Mobile
- gReader: For the Android-based phone owner on the go. Have your favorite websites deliver to you wherever you roam!
- Viigo: For the Blackberry owner on the go. Get new content delivered to your Blackberry for nothing more than a free download!
Other Great Services to Help You Enjoy Your Favorite Content
- Google Alerts: Subscribe by email or by RSS feed. Put Google’s searches to work, scouring the internet for phrases you want to read about, like “Net Neutrality,” or “Hadron Collider,” and watch it bring you new articles featuring those keywords.
- Google Blog Search: More browsing and searching blogs on a simple web interface.
- Subscribe to How-To Geek: We’ll never stop bringing you the best geeky tricks and How-Tos!
Whew! That’s a lot of information to dig through. Have fun with your new found knowledge of RSS, and whatever new ways you might have discovered to keep current on all your favorite online media.
Eric Z Goodnight is an Illustrator and Graphics Geek who hopes to make Photoshop more accessible to How-To Geek readers. When he’s not headbanging to heavy metal or geeking out over manga, he’s often off screen printing T-Shirts.
- Published 01/12/11