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Why do you care about RSS?

I heart RSSMy company builds Web sites, in addition to network architecture and nonprofit IT consulting and we constructed a hurry-up site for a House of Rep candidate during the recent election. She visited the office and I had my Google Reader open so we talked about blogs (she's pro-blog), keeping up with blogs (she's low on time), and how I manage to do both, in addition to running a business and being fairly civic-active [transcript]. When she saw RSS feeds in the reader, she understood faster than I could ever have explained with words, pictures, and metaphors. My next step was convincing our Mayor that in a town nicknamed "Blogsboro" by the LA Times, he should consider some sort of blogging. It's all in the RSS.

We don't visit CNN once or twice a day to keep up with instant news anymore; rather, it's accomplished using RSS feeds effectively. RSS, or Really Simple Syndication, is the brainchild of Dave Winer, (and maybe others), who claims it was never invented .

Simply, RSS is digital content (words, mostly, but audio and video, too) that picks up the new posts (by bloggers, news organizations, and more) and with a feedreader (like Google's Reader with its famous j, j, j keys – see more choices below), you can see which sites have updated content. With Google, you browse to the page and once you set it up with your favorite feeds, you can read new stuff from a computer, PDA, or smartphone. Once it's working, you, too, can enjoy breaking news if you look at it once in a while (which is one reason I have 3 monitors). There's a reader for every operating system, PC, Mac, PDA and smartphones included.

Once you start reading RSS feeds, you'll understand two things about your own business Web site:
  1. You want an RSS feed because everyone has one and
  2. You better start updating your site's content or don't use an RSS feed because there's nothing that the reader will display (i.e. "webmaster" is a real job)
You can't attend a professional conference without a session on RSS and why your business wants it. The other side of the digital coin is that without new content or updates, no one will subscribe to your feed, which is one reason bloggers are so, well, wordy. There are ways to determine how many people are subscribed to your feed (a popularity indicator) and it's a statistic we bloggers savor. Feedburner is a free online tool (with pay options) that tells you just that with pictures and charts.

Setting up a reader is fairly easy now. Bloglines has a little button to click when you're on a page that adds the Subscribe to RSS Feed using Firefoxpage's feed into your Bloglines reader. So does Google. Want to trash a feed that isn't keeping current? Easy. Don't know the feed's URL? Click the "add feed" button. Bookmark your feed reader's home page and you can check new entries on Web sites and blogs throughout the day. It's the perfect solution for that delayed flight or dentist waiting room time. It's replaced my 'car book,' the one I read when I'm 15 minutes too early for an appointment and line at Starbucks is too long. Firefox offers a Bookmarks menu choice for adding feed and popular readers have buttons to install to make adding RSS feeds easy.

Free Web-based RSS readers:

Show us your favorite RSS reader in comments and tell us why it's the best choice.

Tags: freeware, howtos, RSS, RSS reader, RSS how-to, Rss,RssReader,RssHow-to