Six months ago, I couldn’t tell you what “RSS” feeds were. Even today, I forget what the initials stand for. I think many people who read blogs feel overwhelmed in the same way. I felt it was too complicated to “sign up” for blogs. And I couldn’t figure out what that entailed. I would thus spend hours during a week, visiting various websites and seeing what’s new.
But after discovering what feeds really were, I’m hooked and it has saved me a tremendous amount of time. Now that I’m starting my own blog, here are a few answers to some of my own FAQ, that may be yours. I hope this is helpful to first-time readers of this blog as well.
FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions About Subscribing
- What does it mean to subscribe to a blog?
First, you have to understand that blogs are basically a series of posts by a person or company on a particular subject. For a long time, people accessed blogs through actively going to their corresponding websites on the internet. But blogs also have a secondary location on the internet, called a “feed” or “subscription feed”. (Interestingly, these feeds typically end with a website suffix of “.xml”.)
These feeds are like having your own personal messenger. Instead of going to the website directly to read articles, you can have the blog take these posts and send them automatically to you via a product that “reads” these posts, much like an e-mail program reads incoming e-mail. This software is typically known as a reader.
Some blogs also allow you to subscribe the “old-fashioned” way by asking the blog to send new posts to a person’s e-mail address directly. Once you learn about feeds, however, you won’t want to use this option.
- Ok, but I’ve heard the term “RSS” being used. Is that the same thing?
For the non-geeks out there, yes. RSS just stands for Really Simple Syndication. Mainstream news sites use these RSS feeds to send content to people directly, much like blogs do. If you look on a website and see this , that’s an RSS feed.
- So what do I need to have to get these posts? In other words, what software do I need to read this “feed”.
Most internet browsers already contain the ability to read the feeds. But one reason I found feeds so difficult to use and understand was that I found all of the browser readers to be difficult to use.
But lo and behold, Google (yes, THAT Google) actually has a feed reader that, in my opinion, is very easy to use and is very intuitive. It can be downloaded here and runs through your browser just like any other webpage. To use it after that point, just have your browser go to reader.google.com (and bookmark it as one of your “favorites”). The Reader will then appear within your browser.
- What does this reader do exactly?
It takes the feeds, and puts them into an easy to read format (basically the title of the post and portions (or all) of the article. You can then browse through articles quickly by scrolling them. The program will automatically mark them as “read” once you’ve scrolled through them so you know your content is fresh.
- Ok, I’m starting to use Google Reader and went through the demonstration (honestly!), how do I now subscribe to blogs?
The answer is a lawyer’s favorite answer. It depends.
Some blogs and websites, allow you to click on a button that says “Add to Google”. That makes things easy. Just go to that website or blog’s page, click the button and then click on another button that confirms the addition. That simple. You are then subscribed to that blog.
Other blogs, including this one, haven’t made life THAT easy yet.
But here’s the key: It’s still not that hard and here are your step-by-step instructions for doing so.
1. First, open up Google Reader in one tab or window and click on the side menu where it says “Add subscription”. This will then ask you to put in a blog’s internet feed address (remember, the one that typically ends in .xml).
2. Second, in a separate window or tab, go to the blog that you want to subscribe to. When you find the subscription button, click on it, and you’ll get a separate page that lists all the articles. Again, this page will typically have an address that ends in .xml. Our blog’s feed page is here.
3. Then copy the feed’s internet/website (otherwise known as URL) address by highlighting it at the top of your browser and right-clicking “Copy”.
4. Go BACK to Google Reader and Paste the URL address into the “add subscription” bar. Click “Add” next to it and that’s it! You’ll have the feed sent to the Google Reader.
Now, anytime you want to see the latest articles in this blog, you can just go to your Google Reader to see what’s new. If nothing is there, that means you don’t have a new post. (Though you can see “all” posts on Google Reader by just click on the “all items” links on Google Reader.)
UPDATE 10/4: As a result of updates to the blog host, clicking on the "orange" subscribe button will allow you to subscribe to Google Reader with a one-touch button. Go here to try it.
- I want to subscribe to your blog anonymously. Can I do that?
Yes. Most readers automatically build in that anonymity. All you need to do is subscribe and that’s it. The feed gets automatically sent to your computer without the blog knowing “who” is subscribing. The same cannot be said for the e-mail subscription however since we need the e-mail address to send things out to. But if you do subscribe via e-mail (which, again, is not my suggested way of subscribing), your e-mail address will only be used for dissemination of this blog.
I’m afraid of commitment. Can I unsubscribe at any time?
Through Google Reader, its very easy to do; just go to “settings” and next to the particular feeds listed is a “trash” can. Just click on the trash can, and that removes the feeds. This is useful when you’ve signed up for feeds that you later realize may not be helpful or what you were looking for. Some feeds have too much content, sending, 50-100 a DAY. (The New York Times feed averages about 35 articles a day). This can overwhelm even the most diligent reader. Sign up for a few blogs at a time and get a feel for it.
For e-mail subscriptions, just follow the instructions and you’ll be unsubscribed.
- Thanks for the advice. How can I thank you?
By reading this blog, you already have. But be sure to mention this to others that you know.