RSS (short for Really Simple Syndication) provides a way for readers to subscribe to content. This is often blog posts, but it could be news articles by category, articles published by a particular newspaper author or even a social media stream. By subscribing, readers don’t have to keep visiting the source of the content (normally a website) to check for something new.
Let’s say you find my Static works post interesting and feel it’d be worth keeping an eye out for anything new I write. Instead of visiting
https://www.thisdaysportion.com every day to see if I’ve published a new post, you can subscribe to the RSS feed. The feed is updated whenever I publish something new.
In order to subscribe to an RSS feed you’ll need an RSS reader. Think of this as something like the service you use to get your email. It can either be through a website (just like you can get your email at
gmail.com) or an app (just like the gmail app).
Here’s a screenshot of an RSS reader app called NetNewsWire. Note how it looks like an email app. In the first column there’s a list of all the feeds I’ve subscribed to. In the middle column there’s a list of all the posts published in the feed I’ve selected. In the third column you can read the actual article (yes, you don’t even have to visit the website itself).
RSS feeds are simply files that you can find at a web address. My feed is at https://www.thisdaysportion.com/feed/index.xml. Give your RSS reader the feed web address and it’ll do the rest for you. Often, all you need is the website address, and the RSS reader will automagically find the RSS feed.
Why use RSS?
Lots of social media and websites allow you to subscribe to content. Facebook, Twitter etc. are essentially feeds, and most bloggers will post links to new posts to their social media channels. So, why bother with RSS? There are a few reasons; some practical, others more philosophical.
Without RSS, you need to be subscribed to the correct social media channel
I don’t use Facebook, so you’d need to subscribe to either my (protected) Twitter account, or the relatively obscure micro.blog service to get notified whenever I publish anything new.
An RSS reader provides a single place to collect lots of content
If you are interested in reading what people or organisations publish on their own websites, an RSS reader provides an instant list of everything you’re subscribed to. You only need to refer to one service to get instant updates from hundreds or even thousands of sources, such as one person blogs, newspapers or tech websites.
RSS removes noise
As the above screenshot shows, RSS readers can provide a stripped down view of an article, similar to Safari and Firefox’s reader views. Also, if you’re following a social media account for updates, links to articles and blog posts come amid all the other stuff. Being able to focus on the “high quality” content is particularly useful if you’re researching a subject, or you use blog posts to fuel your professional development.
RSS helps authors keep their own content and publish it away from social media
You can, of course, publish articles on Facebook, Instagram and even Twitter (through a thread), which is what these organisations want you to do. The problem with publishing directly to Facebook et al is that they then own your content and can scrape, algorithmise, monetise or even delete it. In these times, who wants to contribute to Facebook’s profits — and the problems they cause?
Also — who knows — perhaps our websites will outlast Twitter and Facebook.
Getting started with RSS
I’ve used these services and apps in the past:
- Reeder (MacOS and iOS only)
- NetNewsWire (MacOS and iOS only)
You may be surprised at how many websites offer an RSS service, even if they don’t advertise it. Try a browser plugin that’ll expose any RSS feeds for you, or even add a reader to your browser: