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If you’d rather learn a little about how to get updates by RSS instead, check out the following sections to learn how RSS can simplify your web browsing.

What Is An RSS Feed?

An RSS feed is a specially formatted file containing the most recent updates to a site.

These files are imported into programs called feed readers, which allow users to download all of a site’s updates without having to open them in a web browser. When you see the orange square like the one above, the site is offering busy people like you a faster and easier way to get information: Subscribing.

What’s the Point? A Little Example

Let’s think of a website as a free local newspaper that you pick up at a local corner store. If you only read one newspaper, you might not mind the short amount of time you spend walking to the store and back every day. Now imagine that you like to read a lot of local papers and have to go to different stores to pick up each one. To complicate things, imagine that some of the publishers have erratic publishing schedules, and you can’t be sure whether there was an edition even released today.

As you find more and more papers that you’re interested in, you end up not only spending more time walking than reading, but you’ll find that you’re making more and more fruitless trips looking for papers that didn’t have new editions.

Essentially, this is exactly what you’re doing when you jump from site to site for your daily blog and news reads.

Wouldn’t it be easier if those sites would automatically deliver new content for free as soon as it was available? Sure, it would!

That’s what an RSS feed does for you. It allows you to automatically pull a site’s updated posts without wasting a lot of time clicking and scanning.

Sounds Good! Now What?

To get started, you’ll need a feed reader. Most modern browsers have rudimentary feed readers built in, but they’re not usually as good as either Thunderbird’s embedded feed reader or some of the web-based readers available.

Once you pick your reader all you have to do is click the orange button like the ones at the top of the page, and you’ll be subscribed to a site. Then, instead of going from site to site looking for content, you’ll open your feed reader, and it will automatically pull all the new content from the sites that you subscribe to.

Resources to Get You Started

TechCrunch’s Web-based Feed Reader Comparison.

A video tutorial on Google Reader

Using Feeds in Thunderbird

Using Feeds in Opera Mail

Using Live Bookmarks in Firefox

Using Feeds in IE7