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What is a feed?

Simply put, feeds make it possible for websites and blogs to distribute their information on a larger scale. Rather than relying on visitors to come to the site regularly to stay up-to-date on all recent posts, websites publish their information as a “feed,” allowing visitors to be automatically sent all updates when they occur. Feeds also take site content and package it in such a way that it can be viewed and accessed through mobile devices and other smaller technologies, allowing visitors to access the information almost anywhere.

RSS Feed IconsHow do I know if I can subscribe to a feed?

Websites and blogs often have the universal feed icon or other similar icons indicating that they allow you to subscribe to their RSS feed (see images on right). When you see one of these icons, simply click and follow any other instructions to subscribe. Alternatively, you can often subscribe by inserting the website URL into your “feed reader,” should you have one.

How do feeds help me?

RSS feeds make online publishing easier and faster as well as streamline online media consumption, making it much less cluttered. Rather than having to keep track of all of your favorite websites by manually visiting them in hopes of an update, you can locate and read all subscribed website updates in one location. If you’re a consumer, this means that feeds make it possible to read and absorb much more online content in a much shorter amount of time. If you’re a publisher, this means that your updates are instantly distributed to interested subscribers. If you’re an advertiser, this means that many online obstacles – like SEO rankings and spam filters – are easily overcome.

Who publishes feeds?

Hundreds of thousands of websites and blogs offer feeds to keep themselves better connected with the people that are most interested in their content. Whether it be an international Internet giant like Amazon.com or a personal blog or podcast with only a handful of followers, it isn’t hard to find RSS content online.

How can I read feeds?

There are many ways to browse, subscribe to, and read feeds. For example, to read text-based feeds, there are thousands of “news aggregators.” If you want to follow a large number of podcasts, then you could use one of many “podcatchers.” There are even feeds that are tailored for specific mobile and other hand-held devices. Some require a purchase price because of their increased functionality and ease-of-use, but there are also a lot of great free readers available. Searching for “feed reader” or “feed aggregator” in a search engine will pull up a lot of popular results, and for your convenience, a list of some of the most popular feed readers are listed at the bottom of this page. Typically, feed readers will show your subscribed feeds and any new or unread entries. Depending on your preference, you can select from a plethora of application or web-based feed readers.

Popular feed readers:

Applications

NetNewsWire
Firefox (via “Live Bookmarks” feature)

Online Services

Google Reader
NewsGator
My Yahoo!
Bloglines
Pageflakes
Netvibes