W4 – RSS

Welcome to Week 4 of krl2pt0

This week we’ll explore two things: RSS feeds and podcasts. The activities this week involve subscribing to RSS feeds through something called a feed aggregator. If you’re up for it, there are also several extras about finding and listening to a podcast or two.

What is RSS?

There are several versions of what RSS stands for. The most common is Really Simple Syndication; others are Rich Site Summary or RDF Site Summary. RSS is also often referred to as push technology because it does just that — it pushes information to you.

MailboxJust like subscribing to a newspaper or magazine, subscribing to an RSS feed brings information to your door. RSS may not sound simple, but it really is, and it will make your online life much more efficient. It’s a way of notifying you whenever your favorite websites, blogs or podcasts have been updated, so you don’t have to check the individual sites yourself many times per day!

There are three steps involved in subscribing to an RSS feed:

  1. The first is to set up an account with an aggregator (also called a newsreader or feedreader).
  2. The second is to find some feeds you want to subscribe to.
  3. The third is to activate the subscriptions to the feeds you want.

For a short introduction to RSS feeds, check out this video tutorial from CommonCraft, RSS in Plain English. You might also want to look at Feel the Need for Feeds, from Rafe Needleman at CNET. Both tutorials are short and sweet.


There are a number of different aggregators out there. One is Google Reader — everyone can access this through the Google account you have set up. You can also subscribe to feeds through an email program, such as Outlook. We’ll talk mainly about Bloglines, but you can use any reader you choose, they will all work in pretty much the same way.

“Aggregators can collect RSS feeds from many sites and present the fresh content from these sites on single page in a format that we can read. One of most popular aggregators today is Bloglines. Bloglines is web based, you don’t need to download any software to your computer. Just create an account on their website and subscribe to your favourite blogs. You can then follow your blogs from a Mac at home, a Windows PC at the office or a PDA at some airport” (Preetam Rai (betterdays).

Here are some tips on setting up an account with Bloglines, Google Reader or Microsoft Outlook.

RSS Feeds

RSS buttonsSo, you may ask, how do we find RSS feeds and how do we recognize them? RSS feeds are easily recognizable. First, go to a website or blog that you like and look for an RSS indicator. These may be identified as “RSS” or “feeds” or “atom feeds.” The large, orange icon on the right is becoming the most common. Many of your blogs have an indicator somewhere on the page that says “Subscribe to: Posts (atom).”


Now that you have located and recognized your RSS feed, you will need to subscribe to it. Click on the RSS symbol next to the title of your page, then copy the URL address. Next, go to your aggregator, click “Add Subscription,” and paste in the address. In Bloglines, you would open the “Feed” tab, click add, and paste in your URL address. (Many blogs or websites now let you select which aggregator you use when you click on the RSS button, making the second step unnecessary).

Examples of Feeds:

Sites that update their content often, such as blogs, newspapers and radio (NPR), are especially good candidates for subscriptions. Below are some examples. Look at a couple of these sites and find the RSS button or instructions on subscribing, just to get a feel for it. (Once you have set up an account with an aggregator, you might want to subscribe to one or more of them).


Technically, podcasts are audio or video feeds that are produced on a recurring basis and can be subscribed to via RSS. An individual podcast is simply an mp3 or video file that you can play on your computer or portable device. Just like text-based RSS feeds, there are three steps to subscribing to a podcast: 1) selecting a media player (podcatcher) to view or listen to the podcast; 2) finding podcasts you like; 3) activating your subscription.

You can view or listen to podcasts in a variety of ways: right from your computer using Windows Media Player, QuickTime or iTunes (all of these are available as free downloads); or on a portable digital device or even some cell phones. Follow this link to find out more about finding and subscribing to podcasts.

Activities for Week 4:

1. Set up an account in Bloglines (or some other reader).
2. Subscribe to krl2pt0 (the easiest way is to use the “Subscribe” button at the top of the left sidebar).
3. Add subscriptions to at least two of your favorite krl bloggers.
4. Add a subscription to one or more of the library blogs listed with Matt’s presentation.

Write a post in your blog about your experience using RSS, and add the post URL to the Tracking Log.

Extras for Week 4:

1. Find a podcast that interests you and listen to/view it in your favorite media player.
2. Post an entry about your experience with podcasts in your blog.

Add the post URL to the Tracking Log.

6 Responses

  1. If anyone finds “Add subscriptions to at least two of your favorite krl bloggers” a bit vague, I wrote a more detailed description in my blog (my2centsandsensibility).

  2. If you have a Mac and you’re having trouble with aggregators, a good one for Mac OS X is Shrook. It’s free and fairly user-friendly.
    We don’t have trouble with the standard aggregators on our Mac at home, especially now that we use Firefox rather than Safari. But our son’s MacBook is happiest with Shrook.

  3. Dag-nabbit! I accidentally erased my comment after it was finished so here it is again.

    Google Reader seemed simplest so I went that route, signed up through the link, picked a blog, copied the url, pasted it into my subscriptions. Everything seems peachy enough. Is the following correct? I need to either sign in or already be signed into google.com so I can paste the subscriptions in?

    Here’s the other thing I’m confused about. At one point I went to the blog of Esion Knalb and clicked at the bottom of the page where it says “Subscribe to: Posts (atom).” My brain assumed that I’d be popped into google reader but instead this came up “You are viewing a feed that contains frequently updated content. When you subscribe to a feed, it is added to the Common Feed List. Updated information from the feed is automatically downloaded to your computer and can be viewed in Internet Explorer and other programs. Learn more about feeds.
    Subscribe to this feed”
    I clicked on ‘subscribe to this feed’ and the next window to pop up said “You’ve successfully subscribed to this feed! Updated content can be viewed in Internet Explorer and other programs that use the Common Feed List.”
    So I guess my question is “HUH?” and is this something specific to my computer or just another ‘aggregator’?

    Maybe when I wake up in the morning this will all make more sense.

  4. Dear I.V. —

    The first part of your question is easy to answer, so I’ll do that first — Yes. How’s that for easy?

    You’re right — you do need to be logged in to your Google account to paste a subscription into Google Reader.

    Your second question is a bit more complicated, so bear with me. What you are running into is something that our helpful friends at Microsoft do when you use Internet Explorer (IE) as your web browser.

    Because IE (v.7) can also subscribe to feeds (they show up in the same window as your bookmarks), Microsoft doesn’t give you a choice of using a different reader when you click on many of the “subscribe” buttons in different blogs. It automatically adds them to it’s reader.

    To subscribe to a different reader (Google or Bloglines, for example) you will usually have to copy and paste the URL — Microsoft isn’t going to let you use their competition without making you work.

    But, I say usually, because there are some exceptions. Try clicking on the “subscribe” button to the krl2pt0 site. Here, you will get a menu which allows you to pick which reader you want to subscribe to. It will let you do this no matter what browser you are using.

    If your eyes haven’t glazed over and crossed by now, here’s the “why” part of that. The “subscribe” buttons in most blogging software are added to the blog automatically as part of the blog template. Behind the button is a piece of HTML code that determines how “sophisticated” the button is. You can add different buttons by adding the additional HTML code that is necessary.

    But, it isn’t really as complicated as that sounds. A number of different websites will provide the code for you. The button on the krl site came from a website called “AddThis.” You just go to the site, pick the style of button you want, copy the code they provide, and paste it into your blog template.

    If you want to try it out, here’s the address for “AddThis” :

    You’ll probably have to check in the help files of whatever blog software you are using to see exactly where the code goes — it’s usually in one of the template elements.

    So, are you sorry that you asked? If you do try it out, let us all know how it goes.

    Bob C.

  5. What exactly happens if you leave Blogger or Gmail or Delicious or Bloglines “logged in” for a couple of days or weeks, and don’t “sign out” when you close the pages and leave your computer?

    I realize it’s handy to not have to log in when you return to the site another time or day, but is there a security risk in leaving it open (other than someone on your own pc)? ( let’s say you are at home on a pc where no one else has access).

  6. I have not read or heard of any security risks, other than that you mention, related to being logging in for extended periods. I’ll often stay logged in for several day at a time and haven’t encountered any problems. Since these are not sites that collect sensitive personal information, I think any risk is relatively low. If I find any information to the contrary, I’ll post it here.


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