What are ‘Feeds’ and ‘RSS’?

Hi. I keep getting asked about the little orange button on the right side bar of the blog and what does “subscribe in a reader” mean? Hence I thought I’d write a short post about Feeds and RSS.


The orange square block is a universal feed icon whilst the little white boxes below are chicklets. Both have a similar function – to subscribe to content (text / audio / video) using a feed reader.

But I am getting ahead of my self. Let’s stop a moment and consider the plight of a regular Internet user who visits multiple websites every day, subscribes to a few e-newsletters, and reads his / her favorite blogs regularly and wants to be abreast of the latest news as it happens. This would have been a daunting task in the pre-RSS era. The user would have had to visit each of those site regularly and scan for the information of value. No more.

Technological evolution has made it possible in online publishing to do two things:

a. Keep track of all your favorite websites and blogs without having to check each site manually or clutter your email inbox with newsletter subscriptions.

b. Publish regular updates to web based content if you are a web publisher yourself.

This evolution is called a “feed”. The feed is based on a format called RSS.  RSS stands for Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication, depending on who you are talking to. Websites, news related sites, and other online publishers syndicate their content as an RSS feed to whoever wants it.

Feeds are published by some of the biggest names on the web, and in addition by hundreds of thousands of bloggers, podcasters, and videocasters to keep themselves better connected with their audiences.

How do I read feeds?

The first thing you need is a news reader. This is a piece of software that checks the feeds and lets you read any new articles that you have added. There are many versions – some paid, others free, some accessed via a browser whilst others are downloadable applications. There are even readers that work exclusively on mobile devices.

A typical interface for a feed reader will display your feeds and the new unread entries within each of those new feeds. You can organise your feeds into categories and even clip and save your favorite entries.

Some popular feedreaders include Feedburner, Feedreader, & Newsgator. There are also a number of web based readers available like My Yahoo, Bloglines, and Google Reader.

If you click on the RSS button you can subscribe to the feed in various ways, including by dragging the URL of the feed into your newsreader, or by cutting and pasting the same URL into a new feed in your news reader. Most sites today that offer feeds have a simple orange button, but some may just have a normal web link.

A significant development in 2006 was the introduction of the orange button (universal feed icon) into Internet Explorer’s latest version. The button changes color from grey to orange when it detects a feed on any web page you visit during your surfing making it extremely convenient to create feeds. I suspect this will have a long lasting impact on the popularisation of feeds in 2007, and its adoption by a greater section of the web surfing audience.



One Response to “What are ‘Feeds’ and ‘RSS’?”

  1. Ganesh Iyer Says:

    Wow…nice article explaining the concept of feeds, because many people still dont know what theyre used for.

    I’d recommend to use google reader…cuz its the best of the lot. It has the powers of a desktop application

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