RSS button

Do you have favorite websites and blogs that you visit frequently? Would you like to get updates from those favorite sites – including Practical Hacks, I would hope – all in one place, and when you prefer?

That’s what RSS feeds do. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, and it enables you to discover what’s new on your favorite sites without having to visit each one. Millions of users have discovered the advantages that RSS offers over old fashioned bookmarking:

  • You don’t have to remember to check a bunch of bookmarks
  • Everything’s in one place
  • No time is wasted visiting sites with no new content
  • All the heavy lifting is done for you!

What do you have to do?

To enjoy RSS feeds, all you need is a feed reader – Google Reader or Bloglines are both excellent are are of course FREE. Simply sign up and begin adding your subscriptions. With either of these readers, you simply enter the URL of the blog or website you want to subscribe to, and the reader will search for an appropriate feed. With Google Reader, you can also simply enter a search term – like “LifeApps” or “ZenHabits” – and it will find a feed or list of possible feeds for you to choose from.

Both of these readers are somewhat similar to email – various articles and posts are listed for each site you subscribe to, with the unread article titles in boldface. When you log on to Google Reader, it’ll indicate how many unread/new items are available to you.

Here’s a glimpse of what Google Reader looks like:

Google Reader image

Like an email account, you can see that there are 4 unread items – 1 at Zen Habits, and 3 at ProBlogger. When you click on one of your feeds, you can look at items in a list or expanded view. If there’s nothing new from one of your feeds, the name of that feed won’t be bold faced.

The best way to learn more about RSS feeds is to sign up for a reader and get a few feeds. When you’re on a favorite site, just click on the (usually) orange RSS feed button – or when you’re in your reader, click on “Add Subscription.”

Another extremely easy way to subscribe is to look at the address bar of any site you visit – if there’s an orange RSS logo over on the right hand side, simply click right on that logo! See below for what to look for:

RSS logo in address bar

One other option

If you are a Google/Gmail user already, just begin using iGoogle (formerly Google Personalized Homepage.) You can add feeds from your favorite sites and all your feeds are displayed at iGoogle as small text boxes. This way you can have all your feeds displayed in a magazine-like format.

This screenshot won’t do it justice, but here’s a crude, partial view glimpse of my iGoogle home page – note that there are several tabs for different topics:

iGoogle screenshot

Here’s a closer view –

iGoogle screenshot

In this case all you need to do is click on the articles or posts which interest you, and ignore those which don’t.

Whether you opt for Google Reader, Bloglines, iGoogle or another type of reader, you’ll discover how convenient and faster this approach to accessing content on your favorite sites is.  Give it a try (click on that orange button in the header!) and let me know what you think!

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