[Update 3/13/2012: This post still exists for historical reasons. Bloglines is gone, and much of what people used RSS for is now being done with Twitter. However, I still find RSS useful. I currently use Google Reader for RSS reading.]
If you have not discovered Web feeds (aka RSS feeds), you should. To illustrate why, I’ll cut straight to an example.
I use a “feed reader” Web site called Bloglines. I have told Bloglines which Web sites I visit regularly. Bloglines now automatically checks them, notifying me when anything new appears.
Why does this matter? I’ve saved time and hassle in two ways: (1) I don’t need to check sites only to find that nothing has changed. (2) When things are new, I can rapidly scroll through all the changes at all the sites, skimming for the stuff I want to read.
And this is not just about blogs. Big publishing sites like the BBC, CNET, CNN, and the New York Times have feeds too. Most sites you like probably have a feed already; those that don’t will have feeds soon.
If this does not seem significant to you, try it. I know very few people who have gone back to the old way.
How You Can Get In on the Action
A Few Notes to Help You Get Started
Just like a site has a URL for its home page, a site has a different URL for its feed. The difference is, the feed page is designed to be read automatically by systems like Bloglines, not by humans.
When you ask a service like Bloglines to track a feed, you provide the feed’s URL. You are then “subscribed” to that feed. But don’t worry: It’s not like a subscription where the site knows who you are; it’s anonymous. Also, almost all feeds are free, as are services like Bloglines.
When you are at a site, look for icons like this:
Although these three images are just examples and thus are not clickable, similar images usually link to feeds. My clickable feed image is on the right side of every page on this site. If you don’t see it, scroll up near the top. The image has a link associated with it. Just copy the link into your feed reader. Or, if you have a feed-discovery feature associated with your browser (here’s an example for Bloglines), it should find my feed when it is applied to any of my blog pages.
Sometimes a page will have multiple feeds in different formats with names like RSS and Atom, perhaps with different version numbers. If you use a major feed-reading service or product, any of them should work.