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Jan 07 2009

lern 2 rss noob

Abby informed me recently that, horror of horrors, she’s a neophyte when it comes to the ways of the Blogosphere, and thus doesn’t know how to use RSS feeds.  So, herein, I shall endeavour to show her, and you, and maybe some random Google searchers, how to make use of the RSS readers that you probably already have installed presently.  If Firefox and IE are insufficient, then I leave it as an exercise for you to find alternative RSS readers.

To start off, I guess I should define what an RSS feed is.  It stands for Really Simple Syndication, and that’s in fact exactly what it is.  Every article on a news-type or blog-type site has a title and a body or excerpt, which is all that the RSS reader polls for — skipping downloading all the images, ads, etc.  Depending on how complicated a feed reader you choose, you can also configure the refresh rate of each site, and prompt you or pop up a notification that new feed items are available.

For the sake of my fingers and your eyes, I’ll focus mostly on my personal favorite browser, Mozilla Firefox, which if you haven’t already installed you should really do so.  It’s much safer and faster than Internet Explorer, and it’s extensible as all get-out with plugins that allow you to shape your browser to meet your needs.  That said, it comes built-in with the ability to automatically view RSS feeds in-line in its Bookmarks menu — treating the contents of the RSS feed as though each article was a bookmark in a folder on your list.  Subscribing to my feed is as simple as clicking on the orange waves icon shown in the address bar:

addressbarthen click on the RSS 2.0 option that it shows you.  Some sites will allow you to directly subscribe to comments or other sub-feeds, but a lot will offer only the ability to choose what version of the feed to use.  As far as I know, most feed readers can use RSS 2.0, so pick that if given the choice.  You can then choose what application to add the feed into — Firefox knows how to use many installed or web-based feed readers, but for the purpose of this exercise, we’ll choose Live Bookmarks and click the Subscribe Now button.  It will then ask where to save the Live Bookmark in your Bookmarks folder — if you’re an organizing freak like I am, you’ll likely want to create a

I use Firefox, of course, but the Live Bookmarks didn’t quite do it for me.  So, I downloaded an extension to make my feed-reading life easier: Feed Sidebar.  This extension makes it possible to add a button to your toolbar so you can toggle the feed reader on and off at your leisure, and pops up notification when new items are available in any particular feed.  There are other extensions you could try if you don’t like the idea of a sidebar.  Here’s a much more thorough tutorial with a few of them listed.

Now, if you don’t have Firefox and (for shame!) refuse to install it for whatever reason, then you at least very likely have Internet Explorer 7 (that is, if you’re doing your Windows Updates… you ARE doing your Windows Updates, aren’t you?).  There’s a full tutorial here on how to add RSS feeds to IE7, and given that I can’t really do this subject justice from memory (nor do I want to power up the Windows partition on my desktop), I’d suggest you take a look there.  It’s pretty thorough and step-by-step, and if you poor unfortunate souls are stuck with Vista, you get the added bonus of having the RSS feeds of your choice show up in your Vista Sidebar after subscribing this way.

Here’s a few direct links to RSS feeds to get you started, just click them and subscribe (and don’t forget to subscribe to mine as well!):

BadAstronomy

BBC News – World

Google News Canada

Slashdot

ScienceBlogs Select

If you’re anything like me, you’re now going to have to subscribe to every site you see that interests you in the least.  Enjoy your newfound lack of free time!

8 comments

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  1. 1
    ReformedYankee

    Speaking of needing RSS tutorials… My RSS feed of Comments on LousyCanuck.ca has failed to updated for sometime…I even resubscribed and I can’t get nuttin… and this isn’t limited to one computer either…What’s Up with that?

  2. 2
    Jason Thibeault

    Weird.  I didn’t have a subscription for it originally, but when I just tried, it shows up as a blank feed.  I think the last upgrade of WordPress broke it, since I had tested it prior to that.  Well, one more mystery to fix today as time permits.

  3. 3
    Jason Thibeault

    Looks like the newest version of WP did indeed break that feed, by not wrapping its call to poll the comments with a “htmlentities” conversion — meaning, it was spitting out ampersands that RSS feed readers couldn’t understand.  & showed up as & instead of & .  I implemented the fix posted here — http://trac.wordpress.org/ticket/8405 — and it seems to be working now.

  4. 4
    ReformedYankee

    woot! ty.

  5. 5
    Abbeee

    Gee, thanks for the shout-out. :p

  6. 6
    Jason Thibeault

    Long as you don’t mind my using your first-name-only, I have a tendency of mentioning people that readers may or may not know.  Just say so and I’ll edit you out of existence or use your nickname (you know — the one you signed up on this site under?).

  7. 7
    A

    That could work… except that I have no clue what name I signed up with. Can you tech me how to do that too, Mr. T?

  8. 8
    Jason Thibeault

    That would be ikyro.  I can have the blog send you the password, if you’ve forgotten it.  I can also make every message you’ve posted anonymously show up as ikyro, if you want, and change all shout-outs to reference said pseudonym.  I am a caring blog-god.

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