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A guide to reading RSS feeds

by Pstonie (15 March 2006)

RSS Feeds, simply put and in their most common use, are a way to stay up to date with web content and news without actually having to periodically check the page for updates yourself. The two most basic things you need to stay up to date with a site would be a link to its RSS feed and a reader to check it for you.

The RSS feeds on pages are normally accompanied by text such as 'RSS' or something similar. It is also popular for it to be linked to by an icon very much like (although normally smaller than) this one:

You can then add the target of such a link into your reader (also called an aggregator), to start using it.
NOTE: For browser-based reading, as explained below, most modern browsers detect RSS feeds automatically.

If you'd like to start using RSS feeds, here is a list of RSS readers (or aggregators) to get you started:

Application-based readers

Omea reader
Omea is the one that I am currently using, after trying a lot of others. Omea has more features than most other aggregators, but it remains fast and doesn't have anything that annoys you or gets in your way. It supports automatic attachment downloading, which is good for tracking podcasts. You will need the .Net framework installed to use Omea.

Abilon
Abilon is also simple and easy-to-use. It has the most important features and remains a light-weight alternative. The biggest problem that I had with it was that it had a tendency to update the feed while I'm reading it, and would then skip to the newest item. This also had the side-effect of marking all new items read if you left an item selected.

Web-based readers

Your best bet for on-line RSS feed is Google Reader or NewsGator. Neither of them require you to install anything, but you will need to visit the page to read your feeds, and you also need to sign up for free accounts with them.

Browser-based reading

Various versions of Firefox, Opera, as well as Internet Explorer 7 (beta) support the use of RSS feeds. While it's nice to neither have to visit a web page or install another application, all of these have their problems. While Firefox supports RSS feeds natively via live bookmarks, as well by use of an extension called Sage, the interface for live bookmarks can be awkward while Sage requires manual refreshing. Opera supports RSS feeds and will automatically check for new items, but it displays feeds in plain text format only. IE7, supports automatic refreshing, but the interface of the beta version is not the best.

Further reading

RSS 101: Get online articles delivered to you (Microsoft.com)
RSS Readers (Blogspace.com)
Top 10 Free Windows RSS Feed Readers / News Aggregators (About)
RSS Readers - Other (RSS Compendium)