Originally published at Am I the Only One Dancing?. Please leave any comments there.
I got a shock the other day when I discovered that despite being one of the older and easier ways of finding things on the web, more than half of regular internet users polled didn’t know what RSS was, let alone how to use RSS, and less than 20% use it regularly (and darn it, I can’t find the source that shocked me. Help please?)
How to Use RSS
RSS is really simple to use. In fact, two thirds of ‘RSS’ are ‘really simple’, and the whole thing is ‘really simple syndication’. You can even use it inside Facebook, though honestly I can’t recommend that any more, now that Facebook has decided that it knows better than you do which of your friends and pages you really want to see. (More on that later).
It’s a huge time saver, and available in mobile as well as large formats.
Imagine for a second that you can put together your own magazine of your favorite sites on the web, automatically updated for you every time there is a new post, and attractively arranged for you to read on your choice of dozens of different formats. There is no need to imagine – that’s what RSS is.
This is how to use RSS:
- Choose a feed reader (that’s what you call the magazine). The most popular one is probably Google Reader, but there are lots of others out there, most of them free. Pick one that suits you and set up an account. I like Google Reader because I’m already signed in to Google most of the time anyway, can be adjusted by a ton of various browser extensions, and has built in a feature called ‘Reader Play‘ that makes it feel even more like a magazine.
- Start adding feeds. Feeds are updates to your favorite blogs and websites that will now be automatically be delivered to your reader. Do you see that nifty orange and white icon up in the top right hand corner of my website? (The one that looks just like the one to the left, there.) That’s an RSS icon. Click on it, and it will invite you to add my feed to your reader, and give you choices as to which reader you use. A second click confirms your choice (it’ll navigate you away from here, so be sure to come back).Look for more feeds. Most websites have a feed, but not all of them are nice enough to make sure that their orange and white RSS icon is easy to find. So you can download extensions for Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Chrome to make it easier.
- Read RSS on your phone or tablet. I use an Android app called NewsRob on mine to read my Google Reader account, which is synced between my phone, my tablet, and my computer. It has a free version, but I like the benefits of the paid version enough to have upgraded. There are lots of others for Android and Iphone around as well.
- A word of warning: If you use an RSS feed reader on your work computer, your IT department will see it as you browsing hundreds of websites, not one. You really don’t want to be in the position of explaining to your boss that you’re just skimming headlines looking for articles to read on your break (even if its true). I bet you can guess how I learned that one.
So why not Facebook? Don’t get me wrong. I like Facebook. I think, on balance, it’s more helpful than not despite some jerkishness on the part of Zuckerman et al. But Facebook started, in spring of 2012, to decide for you which of your friends and pages are valuable to you, on an algorithm that isn’t close to perfect. It had two purposes in this.
First, it was trying to ensure that you saw first the articles you wanted most to read – your closest friends, your favorite pages – but second, it was increasing revenue for itself.
It is now significantly more expensive for advertisers to use Facebok. It used to be an ‘organic’ way to discover new pages, where you just kind of ‘naturally’ picked them up. Now Facebook deliberately makes it harder for you to find new pages, and the owners of the pages need to pay Facebook for the privilege of making it easier to find them.
I don’t blame Facebook for wanting to make a buck. They’re not in it for charity, after all. But speaking as someone trying to get people to read my website, they are now a very expensive option, rather than an inexpensive one, to let people know about my site.
RSS doesn’t exactly advertise my website or anyone elses’, but it does make it really simple for people who already want to read it to find the new articles I post nearly every day. Really simple syndication – and yet most people who are on the web haven’t figured out how to use it on a regular basis.
Oh, and if you’re curious, my own RSS feed of other peoples’ stuff is fed to the left hand column on my site pages (‘below the fold’ a bit), listed as ‘blogroll’, and the most recent couple of articles are linked on my curated life page (which, unfortunately, is glitchy because of the app used to set it up. Looking for better. Help?). Feel free to add any or all of them to your feed. Happy reading!