How to Use RSS Feeds

If there’s one thing I get more questions about than anything else, it’s “how do I do the whole RSS thing?” So here’s a cut out and keep guide to how do get up to speed on RSS.

First off, a brief introduction (and why you should care.) Feeds are the mainstay of the Web world. They deliver information to you without the clutter of email and can be read from any computer. They used to be just for reading blogs, but nowadays you can access your calendar, to do lists, and more or less anything you want via an RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed. RSS is useful; it’s just a shame it’s a bit too geeky to be really straightforward.

This is how I do it. Yes, there are quicker and easier ways to set up feeds, and yes, this all sounds a bit unexciting and fiddly. But this approach, in my view, is the best because once it’s set up, you don’t have to do very much. And if you already have a Gmail email account, this makes even more sense.

1. Install Firefox browser if you don’t have it already. Download it from here. (www.getfirefox.com). (Firefox works better at doing this than other browsers; I suggest you use Firefox as your main browser; it also means this guide will work equally well for Mac users.) 

2. In the View menu in Firefox, go to the Toolbars sub-menu and click on the Bookmarks Toolbar if it is not already ticked. This will add a toolbar below the top row of buttons in your browser.

3. Now, using Firefox, go to Google Reader’s homepage (www.google.com/reader/) Open a Google account if you don’t have one by clicking on the link Create an account now. Follow all the steps necessary to have a Google account (you can use this for email too) and to set up your Google Reader.

4. In Google Reader, click on Settings in the top right hand corner, and then Goodies. Scroll down to the section “Subscribe as you surf.” Drag the Subscribe… button in that section to your Bookmarks toolbar (the on you just set up). Do this by moving the cursor over the orange button until the pointer turns into a pointing hand. Click on the link and, without releasing your finger from the mouse button, drag the link to the toolbar at the top of your page. Release the mouse button, and you’ll see a white sheet icon with “Subscribe” next to it. (If it doesn’t work the first time, try again.)

5. You now need to add some feeds to your Reader. Visit a web page with an RSS feed on it. (If you’re stuck for choice, visit my own humble abode at www.loosewireblog.com.) In the address field at the top of the browser, where the web site address is located, you’ll see an orange RSS icon in the right hand corner. This icon, the accepted button for RSS stuff, indicates an RSS feed is available. Click on the “Subscribe” button you just installed in your Firefox toolbar.

6. Your browser will take you to your Google Reader page, and will have loaded the RSS feed from the page you just visited. You’ll see 10 or so items from that feed listed in the Reader.Click on the blue/grey “Subscribe” button in the top right hand corner of the Google Reader.

7. A yellow bar will appear in the top half of the screen. Click on the “Add to folder” pull down menu in that bar and then, at the bottom of that list, click on “New folder”. Add a name for the folder you want to keep this RSS feed in (“news” or “personal” or whatever.) Click OK. The folder will now appear in the left hand pane with the feed you’ve just subscribed to.

8. To read the feed either click on the name of the feed, in blue, on the left hand pane, or the folder icon and title of the folder it belongs to. The latter will include all feeds in that folder, gathered together. The former will just be the feed you’ve subscribed to.

9. To view just the headlines of each feed, click on “List View” in the top hand corner of the Google Reader; to read more extended chunks (and sometimes the whole post) click on “Expanded View” next to it. To read the post on its original web site (rather than in Google Reader) click on the headline to expand the view of the post, and then the larger font headline below. The link will open in a new browser window.)

10. Now you can add feeds to your collection whenever you see the orange icon appear in the address box of a page you visit.

That’s it. Let me know how you got on, whether you have more questions, tips or requests for more guides. Good luck.

01. October 2008 by jeremy
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