Table Of Contents
Three simple words can change your consumption of information, forever.
How, you ask?
There’s a web technology that can find information on almost any subject on the Internet and spoon-feed it to you. Let’s say that you are obsessed with Justin Bieber and want updates on his whereabouts at all times of the day and night. RSS makes this fantasy a reality; with the right software and subscriptions, you would receive every relevant piece of information immediately following publication, delivered to either your mobile device or desktop.
Of course, if you are over 14, you probably have other interests – don’t worry, this technology can work for just about anything. With it you can read every article offered by a particular blog, for example. But before explaining how RSS can help you, let’s first get RSS explained and cover its history over the years.
1.1 A Very Brief History of RSS
The RSS initial-ism originally stood for “Rich Site Summary” (it also was known as RDF Site Summary), becoming rebadged as “Really Simple Syndication” sometime in 2002 upon release of its 2.0 incarnation. The 2.0 version of RSS remains the latest and most popular variant.
However, given the recent demise of Google Reader, a revision of the RSS spec might soon come to the fore. Before his untimely passing, Aaron Swartz penned a potential 3.0 successor to RSS – while not a final draft, it provides an interesting avenue of development by simplifying and streamlining RSS technology. As it stands, RSS provides compatibility with HTML and XML, which gives the format a great deal of presentational flexibility at the expense of bandwidth.
1.2 The Three Objects of RSS
The three things you need before getting started with RSS are RSS feeds, an RSS reader and websites using RSS feeds. Let’s go over all three.
Feeds provide the user with access to published content on the web. Once plugged into a reader, an RSS feed subscribes you to that particular web content in the same way that a newspaper subscription provides access to news, to the extent that you receive regular delivery of information. The differences between RSS and a traditional newspaper lie in the timeliness, format and accessibility.
RSS feed subscriptions are close to instantaneous, whereas your newspaper arrives sometime after your paperboy wakes up. The electronic, text-based format of a feed also allows for it to be dissected, searched and proliferated in ways that a physical, wood-pulp newspaper never could. However, it is the accessibility of feeds that make it a true newspaper 2.0: provided you have an Internet connection, any device can receive updated RSS content, no matter where you work or play.
Readers are the second object required for RSS consumption. A reader specializes in opening and turning an RSS feed into text and images. Many kinds of readers exist, both on mobile devices and the desktop. Some readers operate entirely in your browser.
For example, Google’s famed, and currently extinct, RSS Reader operated entirely in your browser and included many advanced features, such as cloud syncing and hotkeys. For example, one could mark an article as read and its status would be saved to the cloud. If the user opened up their reader software on another computer, the read status of the article would persist.
Without a reader, an RSS feed would appear as a wall of code, completely incomprehensible to a human being. Fortunately, a vast number of readers exist on desktops, mobile devices and in the browser. Skip to the third chapter for more information on the reader software available, on all operating systems.
The third core component is the websites providing feeds. Virtually all of your favorite sites, from obscure blogs on Justin Bieber to popular content sites, like ESPN.com, provide RSS feeds – you just need to know to look for them. Even when a site doesn’t; other sites, such as Page2RSS, can create one for you. More on all that later.
Together, these three components – RSS feeds, a reader and websites offering feeds – form the core experience behind RSS. Websites provide the content in the form of RSS feeds and readers provide a means of accessing this content. For more information on the kinds of websites that support RSS, skip to chapter 4.
1.3 Similarities Between RSS and Email
The immediate uses for RSS range from providing a magazine-like experience, heavy on imagery and style, to something more akin to Reader’s Digest, an eclectic magazine containing the best snippets of an assortment of sites. RSS’s flexibility relates to the nature of its design. Like email, RSS offers a core technology, around which other inventions revolve.
By itself, RSS feeds exists as a XML formatted (which is like HTML) text file, which requires another web technology to use. For example, just as you would use email in combination with Gmail or Yahoo, you would use external software to properly read an RSS feed. RSS simply offers users an efficient means of acquiring raw information from almost any website on the Internet. It does so by allowing content creators to syndicate content automatically.
Whenever an update occurs, the information gets pushed out to the subscriber, similar to email. This system of data proliferation allows sites with media as diverse as podcasts, comics, and academic journals (and more) to publish their work once, with their subscribers receiving automatic notice.
Prior to its advent and wide adoption, those seeking to receive timely updates from their favorite websites would need to obsessively reload the page, hoping for updates. In fact, most users still check websites daily – a terrible waste of time! RSS automates this, notifying you every time new content is published on your favorite sites.
1.3.1 Open Format
RSS, like e-mail, offers users an open format for information proliferation. However, by itself, RSS appears as an incomprehensible jumble of code. It doesn’t show its true capabilities until used in combination with software specially designed to exploit it. When used with applications like Feedly, RSS transforms into one of the most potent information gathering technologies ever created, outside the NSA’s databases.
1.3.2 What Are Your Preferences?
Like email, RSS usage depends heavily on the user’s preferences. Picture an engineer’s needs – she keeps updated on the latest and greatest in materials science as well as an engineering journal. Normally she subscribes to these publications through the same inbox where she receives important personal messages. Because all these messages go into the same email account, unfortunately, her inbox always appears cluttered and disorganized. Fortunately, RSS provides an alternative.
Instead, by subscribing to her favorite journals’ RSS feeds, the engineer need only occasionally check her reader to receive timely updates from a variety of sites – and she no longer needs to worry about losing important journal updates among piles of chain emails.
1.4 What Kind of RSS Feeds Exist?
Currently nine different flavors of RSS float about on the Internet, as well as two different kinds of Atom 1.0, which is the competitor to RSS. These variants do not differ in any substantial manner from one another, though it is worth noting that the two most popular formats are RSS 2.0 and Atom 1.0. However, functionally no difference between the two formats exists and most sites offer an RSS 2.0 feed. Additionally, many RSS readers can also function as Atom readers, which simplifies compatibility.
Overall, don’t worry about this too much: just keep in mind that you can use Atom feeds in place or RSS, and vice-versa.
1.4.1 RSS .91, RSS 1.0, RSS 2.0, Atom
RSS has had many different versions since its invention, but three strains today count for the majority of RSS traffic: .91, 1.0 and 2.0. Don’t worry if you see the older versions of RSS, as they are all fully compatible with all readers. On the other hand, a formidable competitor has emerged: Atom. Fortunately, the vast majority of RSS readers can also properly use Atom, so for most people none of this matters.
1.5 Summary of the Rest of the Manual:
The remainder of this manual covers RSS’s broad and narrow applications that you, the user, can make use of. Part two of this manual outlines the utility of RSS to general and special interest groups such as students, working professionals and even slackers. The third portion covers how to use and operate an RSS feed within a reader. The fourth part explains RSS’s function within nearly all your favorite websites and how you might use it more efficiently. The fifth chapter covers some methods that you can use to bypass problems in obtaining an RSS feed. The sixth chapter deals with how advanced users can exploit RSS to really improve their news and information aggregating skills. The sixth chapter touches on advanced ways of getting the most out of your feeds. In the seventh chapter I provide additional references and links regarding RSS. Chapter eight covers additional reading that might interest those learning about RSS.
So, could you benefit from RSS? Odds are, yes. To demonstrate, I’ve outlined the many uses people from all walks of life could find for RSS. Let’s get started.
2.1 Utility to Working Professionals
Working professionals typically keep up-to-date on a very narrow field of interests pertinent to their field. The more specialized that field, the more likely that the information publishes infrequently and without notification. While virtually all publications with an online presence use email lists, oftentimes these become burdensome and ultimately provide little utility to a working professional.
It’s a common complaint among doctors and lawyers that journals get accidentally removed by spam filters or lost among the deluge of emails hitting their inboxes. On the other hand, using RSS can both sort and parse journal feeds.
Ultimately, whether or not you benefit from RSS depends on using the appropriate methods in processing feeds.
2.1.1 The Optometrist
While a general practice doctor might subscribe to a variety of medical publications, the optometrist uses just a narrow selection. I interviewed a doctor Andrew Chun on the subject of RSS feeds and how he might improve the efficiency with which he consumes data.
The biggest barrier to his productivity is the constant inbox overflow caused by the various medical subscriptions. Another irritant is the difficulty with which he searched through emails for particular medical concerns.
As a dedicated mobile user, Dr. Chun prefers receiving RSS feeds on his mobile devices, a smartphone and tablet. Fortunately, his five most useful websites also produce RSS feeds, which are readable on Feedly, a mobile and desktop RSS reader. Because Feedly syncs across devices, Dr. Chun can read an article on one device and it is marked as read across all devices.
Dr. Chun’s favorite sites all have RSS feeds:
- Contact Lens Spectrum [No longer available]
- American Optometric Association
- California Optometric Association
Doctors and other medical staff may also want to check out Saikat Basu’s compilation of highly useful medical news RSS feeds.
2.1.2 The Attorney
Josh Maupin, a member of the Kansas Bar Association, prefers checking up on his favorite subjects through his smartphone and desktop computer. He mixes general interest subjects, such as CNN and the Huffington Post, with professional newsletters, which he reads on an infrequent basis. Feedly, again, provides the best solution to his requirements as it offers integration between the desktop and mobile environments. However, he might also benefit from using an offline desktop reader.
- Huffington Post
- Kansas Bar Association: The Kansas Bar Association, unfortunately, doesn’t offer an RSS feed. However, it publishes updates through its social media pages, such as Facebook (see section 4.1.1).
2.1.3 The Engineer
Dzuong “Bob” Nguyen works as an engineer, creating medical devices. As an engineer, he keeps up-to-date on the latest in technology by daily checking up on his most useful websites. He uses both mobile devices and the desktop to read up on his interests. However, Bob prefers to avoid mailing lists. Fortunately, his top three sites all offer detailed RSS feeds.
2.2 Utility to job hunters
RSS can provide anyone seeking information with both broadly and narrowly tailored information — including up-to-the-minute updates on job availability. Another fantastic feature is its ability to keep abreast of information on the government’s policies toward unemployment.
2.2.1 Subscribing to Job-Finding Websites
Virtually all job-finding websites use RSS feeds. In particular, Monster.com includes an RSS feed. Some other major employment websites with RSS feeds are:
Also try Googling your state employment services website, including the keyword “RSS”.
The biggest advantages offered by subscribing to an RSS feed for employment listings is that you receive the information immediately following online publication – as opposed to periodically checking an important website, praying to the gods of the Internet for an update.
2.2.2 Government Websites
Most US state websites offer not just updates via social media, but also through RSS. One of the most critical examples of the importance of RSS to the unemployed would be the fiscal crisis of 2012. Toward the end of 2012 unemployment benefits were set to expire unless the US Congress reached a budget deal. Fortunately, Republicans and Democrats pinched out a deal in the final moments of 2012. Unfortunately, many of the unemployed didn’t know about the impending cut-off of benefits, nor did they know how close they were to losing their benefits. Had more of the unemployed been aware of political issues facing them, they probably would have voted – or voted more sensibly.
2.2.3 Yahoo Pipes Integration
Yahoo Pipes can actually bundle together a huge number of job-searching websites into a “Pipe”. A Pipe is a collection of RSS feeds that have been specially sorted to produce information relevant to your needs. These sorted RSS feeds can be contextually searched for a particular key term. For example, if you were to seek job updates from every single database in the United States, you would simply search through Yahoo’s database of preassembled Pipes.
For the majority of possible Pipe configurations, someone has likely already created a bundle of job-seeking websites that permits contextual searching. After finding such a Pipe, you would simply open it and plug your zip code into the contextual search area. It will then output jobs fitting your search criteria, which you may use by copying its RSS feed into your reader.
After that, whenever your key term showed up in a jobs posting, you would receive an instantaneous notification on your desktop or mobile device.
2.3 Utility to Students
Many students, college or other, would benefit from updates on subjects pertinent to their field of study — doubly so for graduate students hammering away at their doctoral or master’s thesis.
However, because of the diverse number of subjects studied in colleges, an individual might require information from more than one or two different subjects. Some of these sources might be of particular significance to the student’s major or emphasis of study, while other subjects might be of lower priority.
2.3.1 Don’t Dump Your Feeds into One Location
The surest way to ruin your RSS experience is to simply dump all of these feeds into your reader, without organization. That’s fine for a small number of feeds, but large numbers of sources require a strategy for consumption.
2.3.2 Organize With Folders
Fortunately, many readers also support means of clustering similar fields into “folders”. Folders can be renamed and reprioritized. For example, if an engineering student wanted to follow three different subjects –such as engineering, geology and dramatic arts– she could create individual folders to manage them. My folders include all the various subjects that I’m interested in, divided by priority and subject.
To create a folder in Feedly, click on the Organize link in the left pane in the main Feedly window.
Next, drag and drop RSS links into the NEW CATEGORY box, at the bottom of the page.
To rename a folder, move the mouse pointer over the category/folder. Then click on the pen icon.
A student serious about their field of study would include engineering within a folder labeled “A1 Engineering” which would show up first in his list of feeds. Next, he might include geology in a folder labeled “B1 Geology”. It would show up second. Third, he would put his least important feeds into “C1 Electives”, which he would read casually, or not at all.
With the right strategy for organization, students can benefit substantially from RSS feeds.
2.4 Utility to the Casual User
RSS consumption doesn’t need to be all business or productivity oriented. It can also provide a leisurely reading experience similar to Blender or Vogue—as coffee table decoration.
The difference between hardcore consumption and entertainment tends to lay entirely in the feeds that one subscribes to and the kind of reader used. For the most part, the majority of RSS readers on smartphones or tablets tend to emphasize appearances rather than the raw consumption and processing of data.
Google Currents provides one of the best examples of a visually appealing reader with an elegant interface. Two other examples of extremely well-polished readers would be Flipboard and Taptu.
2.5 Utility to News Junkies
Users who need a constantly updated stream of information from major news sites can find hundreds of feeds. For example, the New York Times and CNN offers not one, but dozens of customized RSS feeds.
For example, if you sought only updates on Paul Krugman’s NYT blog, you would simply subscribe to the specialized RSS feed for that particular column. All NYT publications include an RSS feed. The same is true for almost all major news websites.
2.6 Special Interest
RSS’s true power lies in niche interests. The more narrow and obscure the information, the greater the utility of the RSS feed, since it shortens the delay between when one might check the site and when the information publishes. Three great examples of special interest categories:
- Your favorite sports team’s playoff performances;
- video game reviews from IGN;
- Podcast updates from your favorite show, such as the Joe Rogan Experience Podcast.
2.7 General Interest
For those seeking broad umbrella topics, such as “technology” or “sports”, RSS provides yet again another efficient means of checking up on your favorite subjects. Conversely, most general-interest news sites also offer feeds broken down by the section. So you can grab news content that’s either extremely broad or extremely focused, depending on your tastes.
For example, CNN offers a feed including all its publications as well as specialized feeds for particular sub interests. Virtually all major news sites offer RSS feeds for all its subsections.
Some of CNN’s RSS feeds, by subject:
2.8 Curating Your RSS Feeds
2.8.1 Killing Unproductive Feeds
Like a gardener picking his arboretum clean of weeds, you must regularly remove RSS feeds that no longer capture your interest to keep your reader useable. A key to avoiding a tangled, disorganized and unusable collection is to regularly audit your RSS depository for boring, useless or malfunctioning feeds.
To remove an unproductive RSS feed in the Feedly reader, simply click on the organize button at the top left of the screen.
Then click on the X next to the RSS feed that you would like to remove.
Personally, I use folders to separate more productive feeds from less productive ones.
For example, in Feedly, I designate folders by two labels: First, by their priority and second, by their category. If a feed is particularly important, it receives the folder “A1”. If it’s a technology related feed, it receives the label “A1 Technology”. This ensures that the folder shows up first in the alphabetized feed list in Feedly.
3.1 How to Use an RSS Feed
As indicated in the first chapter, RSS feeds require a reader, which is desktop or mobile software capable of reading an RSS feed. Aside from the reader, you will also need the individual RSS feeds from the websites that you follow.
For example, if you are seeking to replace an email list, locate the site from which the information originates. Then find the RSS link from the website. When you subscribe to a feed, essentially you will copy and paste the RSS feed’s URL into the reader.
Typically, your reader client will include some means of accepting the RSS feed. Once subscribed, as new content publishes, it will show up inside of the reader.
Using RSS is dead simple:
- Collect your RSS feeds.
- Find an RSS reader.
- Plug your feeds into your reader.
- Check your reader.
3.2 Locating the RSS Feeds
Finding the required RSS feeds simply involves going to your site and looking for the RSS icon, or text link displaying the initials “RSS”. While not all sites include a link to their RSS feed, those lacking it are in a tiny minority. Finding the feed for any website, be it a private blog or commercial website, isn’t hard.
If you can’t find the RSS link, try visiting the FeedBurner website.
Go to the FeedBurner, or a similar site, and input the URL of the website that you want content from. FeedBurner will then generate the needed RSS links. Another handy tool is RSS Network, which includes a vast database of RSS Feeds. However, in the event that all else fails, try Googling the name of your website and the key-term “RSS”. Invariably, this method almost always will lead you in the right direction.
Once you have subscribed to the feeds, content will automatically appear in your reader.
Googling name of website + RSS
3.3 Finding the Right RSS Reader for You
A huge number of RSS reader products exist on all platforms and hardware, including Linux and OSX. Finding the right RSS reader for your tastes depends on your needs. For example, if you require both offline and mobile access to your feeds, you will want to install two different applications: one that specializes in mobile feed fetching and another that handles offline feed management.
Some apps can handle both offline and mobile feed fetching, however. Linux or Mac OS users also have software that exists only on their own platform, in addition to cross-platform software. More or less, however, readers fall into three categories: Browser software, mobile software and desktop software.
3.4 Browser Software
Browser readers are based entirely within browsers such as Chrome, Firefox or Internet Explorer. These require creating an account and, like most RSS readers, they sync with your reader account. Out of the browser-based readers, I prefer Feedly because of its mobile app and desktop interface. However if you dislike Feedly, NewsBlur and FeedBooster offer solid alternatives.
Feedly is one of the best RSS readers out there. It offers amazing cross-platform compatibility and outstanding functionality, including mobile apps and browser extensions. MakeUseOf has covered some of Feedly’s new features as well as some tips on how-to optimize your reading experience.
NewsBlur also supports the iPad, iPhone and Android interfaces. It appears similar to Google Reader in both function and form.
FeedBooster appears to offer the most features out of all the Google Reader replacements. It includes features such as “contextual filtering”, which allow users to parse their feed streams by date, folder and more. If you want more information, you can read an excellent summary of Feedbooster’s features.
3.4.4 The Old Reader
The Old Reader currently only offers a browser-based experience, however it’s said to best capture the old version of reader, which included article sharing. It’s currently in beta.
3.5 Desktop Software
Of the recommended software contained in this section, I strongly advocate checking through MakeUseOf’s directory of RSS software. There’s a vast amount of open-source and free RSS readers available.
FeedDemon remains one of the most popular desktop clients for reading RSS. Like most desktop readers, it includes such features as folder support, tagging, keyword alerts and podcast support. It is easily one of the best desktop alternatives, although lacking in visual polish.
3.5.2 FeedReader (Windows and Linux)
FeedReader received very good reviews as one of the better replacements for Google Reader.
3.5.3 RSSOwl (Windows, Linux and Macintosh)
RSSOwl offers one of the most feature rich offline RSS experiences, along with Google Reader integration.
3.5.4 Other RSS Readers
- GreatNews [No Longer Available]
- Feed Notifier
3.6 Mobile Software: Android, iOS, Symbian and Windows Phone
So many mobile applications for RSS exist in the various online app stores that a complete list would be impossible. Instead, I present only three for the major mobile operating systems.
3.6.1 Feedly (Android and iOS)
Feedly’s mobile app, on Android and iOS, is powerful and aesthetically pleasing. It stands tall above other great software, such as the efficient JustReader and the feature-rich gReader [No longer available]. It’s also totally free.
3.6.2 Nextgen Reader (Windows Phone)
Nextgen Reader is widely regarded as the best RSS reader for the Windows Phone operating system, and can sync with Feedly if that’s important to you.
3.6.4 Horus (Symbian)
Horus for the Symbian operating system is the best in a relative desert of a mobile app environment –Symbian’s not exactly cutting edge at this point. The alternative would be using one of the browser-based readers.
4.1 Social Media
4.1.1 Stalk Your Friends and Enemies on Facebook
Facebook is among the most popular websites offering RSS integration. You can get RSS for almost any Facebook page that offers notifications, which will greatly cut down on the number of Facebook notifications spamming your email inbox.
Nancy Messiah wrote about how effective this method is for keeping track of social media websites. Simply go to the notifications page and copy the Facebook page’s URL and paste it into your reader. From then on, any website you subscribe to will show up in your RSS feed.
Flickr includes an RSS feed for any individual account, based on the URL:
Simply replace USERID in the URL with the number located inside the URL of an individual’s Flickr account. Nancy elaborates on how to do this in her article.
Twitter can also let you track individual users using the following URL:
Simply replace “USERNAME” with the user ID of anyone you would like to follow via RSS. You may notice that the particular feed type for Twitter is not RSS, but Atom. Don’t worry: they’re cross-compatible formats. Nancy elaborates on how to use RSS feeds for Twitter here.
Wikipedia has perhaps the most in-depth RSS and Atom integration out of all the major websites on the Internet. In particular it offers the ability to monitor particular Wikipedia pages for changes. Check out the Wikipedia RSS feed page here.
eBay’s RSS feed system provides its customers with a very sophisticated method of keeping track of either very specific or very general kinds of information. Their website supports RSS for both auctions and discussion groups. If you are looking for a very specific item, such as a rare magazine or comic book, search for it using eBay’s advanced search feature. You can turn that search into an RSS feed.
To turn a search into an RSS feed, you would only need to copy and paste the URL of a search into your feed reader with “&_rss=1” appended onto the end of any search result’s URL.
One of the greatest benefits of this is that you can narrow your search to pinpoint accuracy – for example: it’s possible to search for extremely specific items, such as Justin Bieber memorabilia with values between $5 and $10 containing the key terms “Belieber” and “Swag”.
Amazon keeps a variety of tagged RSS feeds for particular products. For example, if you were looking for the most popular sci-fi products on Amazon, you would plug the following URL into your RSS reader:
Simply look for the orange icon with the label “RSS feed” on any product listing. The URL will then show every single sci-fi related product as it is listed on Amazon. You can find a directory of Amazon’s RSS feeds here.
For more ways to exploit Amazon, and pull down awesome deals, check out some tips to enhance your Amazon shopping experience.
Craigslist functions in a similar way as eBay – all searches can convert into an RSS feed simply by adding “/index.rss” to the end of any URL. You can then copy and paste the modified URL into any feed reader. Craigslist provides a function that eBay doesn’t, however. It can also aid individuals seeking employment. Simply search for the relevant key term and add index.rss to the end of the search results.
Crafts website Etsy produces four primary kinds of RSS feeds – those that track individual shops, publicly available favorites, member curated “Treasury” lists and Etsy blog feeds. To track individual shops, simply type in the URL:
Insert the shop’s username in place of “SHOPNAME” in the URL. For publicly available favorites, use the following URL:
Again, you will replace “USERNAME” with the target business’s username. For the Treasury feed, check out:
For Etsy blog feeds use the following directory of the various kinds of available RSS subscriptions:
4.4 Search Engines
Bing can easily create customized RSS feeds based on Bing searches. Simply copy and paste from a Bing search and add “&format=rss” to the end of the URL. For example, searching for “Belieber Fan Club” creates the following URL in Bing:
Google also offers customized searches, although not on the same level as Bing. Essentially, to generate an RSS for Google, you must use Google Alerts. Simply navigate to Google Alerts, input your search criteria, and output as an RSS.
4.5 Deal Hunting Websites
MakeUseOf covered both SlickDeals and FatWallet before — between the two sites, some of the best deals on the internet can be found. Combining these two sites with RSS and other methods, it’s possible to score explosively good deals – with RSS functioning as the catalyst.
The deal-hunting site, SlickDeals, offers a large number of RSS feeds linking directly to forum discussion. These often involve one or more SlickDeals members not only making posts, but also discussion between members on how much value these deals provide.
Some forum topics cover particular broad categories of deals, such as on electronics. Other feeds cover more specific subject material, such as price mistakes or particularly “hot” deals.
4.6 Reddit Integration
Every possible Reddit page also includes an RSS feed. Simply by adding “.RSS” to the end of any URL on Reddit will allow you to insert it into a reader, such as Feedly. However, many readers actually support directly inserting Reddit links without the .RSS appendage.
I prefer to subscribe to Reddit topics with a relatively low volume of publication. In particular, the “Most Popular” Reddit sub includes only threads that reached the front page – these typically have greater quality than simply going to Reddit’s front page and hitting F5 to refresh it.
5.1 No RSS Link
Getting started with RSS first requires that you visit each of the sites that you plan on following to obtain its feed URL. However, not every site will overtly offer an RSS feed. Fortunately, some sites allow you monitor site updates using browser extensions and web services. To read more information on the various ways of checking a website without using an RSS feed scanner, check out this article.
5.1.1 Update Scanner
Update Scanner is a Firefox extension that allows you to monitor any webpage for updates. This is particularly useful for older sites that haven’t caught onto RSS feed technology. To use the extension, simply install it and when you find a site that requires monitoring, right-click on it and select “scan for updates”.
ChangeDetection.com allows the user to automatically monitor a website for any changes made. The service actually makes a distinction between changed and unchanged text, displaying both together for comparison. For keeping track of website changes when RSS is unavailable, ChangeDetection is an excellent service.
Page2RSS is web app that will convert any website into an RSS feed. It’s both easy to use and highly flexible, including functionality with Twitter, as well as a Google Chrome extension.
To use Page2RSS, simply cut and paste the URL of the webpage that you would like to monitor. Page2RSS will output an RSS feed, which you can plug into your reader.
For more information: The MakeUseOf Answers section discussed several other methods of dealing with absent RSS feeds.
5.2 Inserting RSS into Your Blog or Website
For those of you with personal websites, consider adding an RSS feed to it. As I’ve mentioned earlier, everyone with a Blogger or WordPress account already has an associated RSS feed. To reach it, simply append /RSS to the end of your website’s URL. You can then plug it into your favorite RSS reader.
6.1 Yahoo Pipes Integration
Yahoo Pipes provides a very sophisticated form of RSS aggregation. Yahoo Pipes aggregates feeds by combining them into a single RSS link, which you would subscribe to using a reader. However, aside from aggregation, Pipes’ possible uses reach extraordinarily complex proportions – to use Yahoo Pipes to the fullest requires an understanding of web development.
However, Pipes’ most basic functions only require brief description and explanation. The three most useful functions are: Feed aggregation, keyword filtering and preassembled Pipes. Here’s an excellent article covering the basics on assembling your very own Pipe.
Yahoo Pipes, as the name suggests, provides a means of aggregating multiple RSS feeds into a single feed. For example, if you wanted to create a single stream of information containing only the photos from a Flickr photo-stream, Pipes can configure to aggregate hundreds of Flickr users’ published material into a single RSS feed.
6.1.2 Keyword Filtering
Pipes can also filter RSS streams for particular keywords. For example, if you sought information on refinancing your house from a large number of economic and finance blogs, you could configure a Pipe to only output results including the term “refinance”. Pipes would then only give you results relevant to that particular term.
6.1.3 Preassembled Pipes
Yahoo allows its users to share preassembled Pipes. These run a gamut of varying forms and functions. For example, one Pipe gives users the ability to search through all available job listings within a specific zip code. Another Pipe allows users to search through deal-hunting websites for particular items. The Pipes database is quite extensive and I highly suggest browsing through it for ideas.
6.2 IFTTT Integration
One could write a full-length novel about the various ways that IFTTT integrates with RSS. Essentially, IFTTT is a web automation system revolving around “triggers”. A trigger causes the service to activate.
In regard to RSS, IFTTT can configure to send alerts to you whenever a particular keyword trigger shows up in an RSS feed. This can keep you current on sales, new product releases and more. The following sections list of some of my favorite IFTTT recipes.
IFTTT’s integration with eBay allows you to do a great many things – my favorite is the ability to receive SMS notifications whenever a particular item you’re searching for shows up as an auction. Some other great eBay recipes will remind you of a closing eBay auction and sends email reminders whenever eBay Deals become available.
Some of the better recipes for Amazon include email notification whenever a “Top Free MP3 Album” reaches the Amazon feed. One great recipe sends you email notifications whenever a new book is added to the “Top 100 Free eBooks” list. Another great IFTTT recipe scans Amazon’s Gold Box Deals and notifies its user via email when updates occur.
Ever want to get the best price on a locally sold item? Fortunately, IFTTT offers Craigslist integration with email notifications. Whenever the thing you’re looking for shows up on Craigslist, you will receive instant notification.
Another task IFTTT with RSS excels at is deal-hunting. A variety of IFTTT recipes integrate with RSS feeds from social media sites. These recipes send you instant notifications whenever a bargain-related keyword shows up on social media sites.
6.1.5 Feedly Integration
Feedly created a list of IFTTT recipes, which essentially turn Feedly into the king of all RSS reading services. One of its best recipes transports articles from Feedly to the outstanding read-it-later service, Pocket. Another amazing recipe is its integration with Evernote, which automatically turns saved articles from Feedly into Evernote notes.
View a complete list of IFTTT recipes for Feedly.
6.3 Browser Integration
Several browser plug-ins allow a more instantaneous methods for interacting with, and manipulating, RSS.
If a website lacks an RSS feed, you can substitute in Alertbox. Alertbox is a Firefox extension that monitors particular portions of a website for changes. Whenever new material publishes, Alertbox shoots off a notification to your inbox. While this doesn’t technically count as an RSS related service, it does offer a similar function to an RSS feed. For more information on how to use Alertbox, this article illustrates Alertbox’s function and various uses.
A variety of extensions for the Chrome browser will allow you to monitor RSS and Atom feeds with ease. A Google software engineer created RSS Subscription Extension, which allows the user to monitor RSS feeds directly from the browser.
FeedBurner provides the backbone for many web publishing feeds. You can find many sites’ RSS feeds by going to the FeedBurner site and inputting its URL. This is one of the best methods of finding hard-to-locate RSS links.
6.5 Full Text Services
While a powerful tool for acquiring timely information on any subject, RSS does suffer from a unique limitation – web sites can abridge the RSS feed, forcing the reader to click over to the ad-bloated main site. While this happens to help generate add revenue for a site that you use, it can sometimes cause the user a degree of inconvenience and irritation. Fortunately, a variety of services exist that can turn a shortened RSS feed into a full-text version.
These services essentially copy text and images from the main site and reconstruct a full article in your reader. On the downside, full-text services always include an ad at the bottom of the feed and sometimes cause formatting errors or produce incomplete copies. Still, for most RSS feeds, full-text services provide a time saving mechanism that can provide a great deal of improvement over an abridged feed.
Readability optimizes the appearance of web pages for smartphones and other limited-screen-size readers. Its primary function saves articles from your desktop for consumption later. Another major feature is that it can pull the full-text from a website, without you actually having to go to the website. Some reader services combine RSS with the Readability service – from your reader you might read a complete article, without the clutter and ads from the website of the text’s origin.
Instapaper offers a similar service as Readability, stripping the text and images from a website and republishing the full content, which you can access from your reader. It’s important to note that Instapaper is also its own reader, which can be found in all online marketplaces.
6.5.3 Five Filters
Five Filters simply converts any RSS feed to full-text. Just copy the URL into Fiver Filters’ copies content from the host site and sends it to your reader’s inbox.
6.5.4 Wizard RSS
Wizard RSS performs the same service as Five Filters, except in my experience it has proven more reliable for converting websites into full-text. However, it doesn’t offer the filtering characteristics of other services.
6.5.5 Feed Rinse
Feed Rinse provides a similar function as the other full-text services, except it specializes in filtering content for specific keywords. You can configure the service to extirpate feeds containing keywords that you aren’t particular interested in.
Some RSS readers, but not all, support the use of folders. As mentioned in chapters 2 and 3, folders provide powerful organizational support for sorting your RSS feeds. Most major RSS readers support folders, including Feedly.
6.7 Hot Keys
Another handy feature is hotkeys. A hotkey provides a shortcut to a particular function – one feature that I find handy is the “mark all as read” hotkey “CTRL-A”. By pressing the key combination of CTRL-A, you will mark all articles in a particular folder as read. This is particularly useful for low-utility feeds, with high amounts of published content.
MakeUseOf published a cheat sheet for Google Reader which possesses broad applicability amongst the majority of RSS readers. For the most part, these are universal hotkeys.
Using hotkeys will greatly improve your data processing efficiency.
6.8 Content Discovery
Before Google yanked its Reader’s discovery feature, Google Reader allowed its users to share interesting RSS links. This combination created a devastatingly powerful content discovery tool: Users were recommended links from other users, with similar interests and tastes. Its removal was a dark day, indeed.
Fortunately, Feedly recently added a “Must Read” feature, which recommends reading material in a similar manner as Google Reader once did. In its current form, the “Must Read” feature offers users both a visually stunning interface and a high degree of efficiency. You simply mark an article as “Must Read” and Feedly will begin making recommendations to you based on your preferred RSS content.
To get started with “Must Read” for Feedly, first, copy and paste your favorite feeds’ URL into the Search feature in the upper-right hand side of the Feedly interface.
Next, check the “Must Read” box before hitting the “Add” button.
7.1 In Summary
RSS truly is the best way to consume online content efficiently. RSS represents the future of newspapers – one might say it’s the 2.0 version. To get the most out of it, however, you will need to find the right reader to read your website’s RSS feeds. Then, for advanced users, you will want to use various online tools to maximize the efficiency of RSS delivery. Once the bugs of any efficient feed have been ironed out,
7.1 Future of RSS
After Google’s murder of its reader service on July 1st of 2013, the future of RSS appears to be undergoing a massive reorientation. No longer does a single service dominate the marketplace. Rather, dozens of products have shown up on various online stores, from Apple’s App Store to the Google’s Play Store. However, it’s worth noting that two companies appear to be making waves in the RSS world.
Digg announced in the middle of June 2013 that it was rolling out a replacement service for Google Reader. It’s not much of a prediction that Digg has been looking for content since losing a great deal of market share to Reddit.
Digg’s upcoming service will likely attempt to resurrect Google Reader’s much loved “share” feature. Because of stiff competition from Feedly, it remains to be seen whether or not Digg will be able to force its way into RSS ecosystem. I am, however, confident that Digg will create something worth using.
For many of its users, Feedly functions as one of the best Google Reader replacements. Feedly allows full importation of your feeds and folders from Google’s service. And, with some minor settings modifications, the service offers a seamless transition.
Feedly combines many of Google Reader’s most useful characteristics, such as hotkeys, with a slick and highly polished user interface. It also recently announced a migration of all feed hosting onto its own servers, meaning you can search through a vast database of feeds for particular keywords. To read more about Feedly’s various functions, check out its Firefox integration and “Must Read” section for its mobile application. Feedly’s new feature make it a killer RSS reader service.
8.1 Original paper on RSS 0.90
For those of you who are history buffs, you can read the original RSS 0.90 specification that was published by Netscape on March 15, 1999.
8.2 Aaron Swartz’s entry on RSS 3.0
In 2002, Aaron Swartz penned a 3.0 specification for RSS. You can read the original document here, on his blog. For those of you interested in the subject, RSS was not invented by Swartz – he however had a role in creating the 1.0 specification, according to some sources.
8.3 Additional Information on Yahoo Pipes
For those of you interesting in learning more about Yahoo Pipes, I strongly recommend watching the Yahoo Pipes YouTube channel. The best source for Yahoo Pipes tutorials is Dawn M. Foster’s blog, FastWonderBlog.com. However, the tutorials are located on iTunes.
8.4 Additional Information on IFTTT
For those of you seeking additional information on IFTTT, check out the official IFTTT YouTube channel for great recipes and tutorials.
1.1 Justin Bieber via Brad Camembert from Shutterstock.com.
Kannon is a freelance writer for MakeUseOf.com and RSS enthusiast. He has worked as a computer technician, studies foreign languages and has a BA in journalism and an MA in international affairs. You can check him out on Twitter. #SWAG
Guide Published: June 2013