The Beginner's Guide to RSS

Do you want to keep tabs on your favorite blogs or websites but don’t have time to go clicking around the internet to keep up with new content? It’s probably time for you to try RSS.

RSS, short for “Really Simple Syndication,” is a valuable tool for web users, but especially for journalists who use RSS feeds to streamline their online reading and newsgathering process. RSS makes it easy to keep track of many different blogs at once and to be notified of breaking news in your beat.

What is RSS and how does it work?

Most online news sites and blogs have one or several RSS “feeds” that you can subscribe to and be notified of new posts and articles. Reading these RSS feeds requires an RSS reader. There are many different kinds of RSS readers, but the easiest and most intuitive is Google Reader. If you don’t have a Google account, just complete the short registration process by clicking the “Create an account” button. From there you can start adding your favorite news feeds.

Sounds great. How do I do it?

Visit any site or blog that you want to subscribe to and look for an orange RSS icon or use Cmd-F (Mac) or Ctrl-F (PC) to find the word “RSS” on the page. Click on the link and you should be taken to a page that gives you the option of adding the feed to Google. Select this option.

If you can’t find the RSS feed or just want to add your feeds within Google Reader itself, click the “Add a subscription” button located in the top left area of Google Reader and enter the URL/web address of the site you want to add. If the site has an RSS feed, Google Reader will automatically add it to your list.

What if I don’t know which blogs I should add?

If you aren’t sure which blogs you should be following, you can also enter keywords such as “education” or “health” in the same box. Google will recommend blog feeds based on your search terms. After you begin adding blogs, Google Reader will recommend similar blogs that you should be reading. These blogs are found in the “Recommended sources” menu in the left sidebar.

I’ve added feeds to my RSS reader. What now?

RSS works a lot like email. You will get notifications of new posts and articles in what looks like an inbox. Take a look at the Google Reader layout. On the left, you’ll see a list of the blogs and sites you’ve subscribed to. The number next to it indicates the number of “unread” items. The space on the right is the actual blog post or article.

But wait, I only see a headline or a paragraph.

Some sites make excerpts or headlines available in their RSS feeds to encourage you to read the story on their site. To read the rest of an abbreviated article, click on the headline. A new tab or window should pop up with the full article.

Wait, I’m still totally lost.

Click here for a detailed explanation of RSS or check out this video guide to RSS in plain English.

Also on 10,000 Words:

The 20 Essential RSS Feeds for Multimedia Journalists
Beyond Twitterfeed: Innovative uses of Twitter in the newsroom
What is…? A handy guide for the new media novice