Make sure you never miss out on updates from any kind of website
We’re all familiar with the phrases ‘surfing the web’ and ‘browsing the internet’, but with the wealth of websites now online, carrying out the daily trawl of your favourite sites can be a time-consuming task not to mention a fruitless one if those sites have no new content to offer.
But this needn’t be the case. Many websites now offer a service called Really Simple Syndication (RSS), although it’s often referred to simply as a feed. The feed’s job is to bring the content from your favourite sites directly to you.
When RSS first appeared, you needed a special program to receive feeds, but it’s now possible to subscribe to them free of charge from within your web browser, and this feature is going to show you how. And remember, feeds aren’t just for tracking news you can also use them to get travel information, ticket updates for events and more.
What is RSS and what does it do?
In a nutshell, an RSS feed is a standardised format used to publish frequently updated web content. Any single feed might typically contain such information as a headline, and either a full rendition or a summary of the article, a publishing date and an author name. The latest versions of RSS might also include images and even some formatting, so they look more like the originating websites. RSS formats are created using a language called XML, which lends it great flexibility.
As you browse the web you may encounter references to Atom feeds, which sound a lot like RSS. For all intents and purposes, they are the same thing. At some point in history, Atom was set up as an alternative to RSS, but almost all browsers and RSS readers are capable of accessing feeds in both formats.
Now that RSS feeds are so easy to use, you’ll discover feeds in more places than you would expect. Supermarkets such as Tesco use RSS feeds to keep customers up to date with the latest offers, while the UK’s Highways Agency has a number of feeds providing information about traffic incidents all over the country. Travel website Lastminute publishes feeds with updates on bargain holidays and theatre offers.
Let us not forget, of course, that RSS is also ideal for keeping track of your favourite blogs and news-driven websites such as the BBC. Even Computeractive is in on the act, publishing updates on the latest news stories, competitions and reviews added to our website. See the step-by-step guide below to find out how to subscribe. The technique is the same for other websites.
Being able to spot when a website is offering an RSS feed is also getting easier. Many sites these days plump for the increasingly familiar orange box, featuring a white wave-like design. But that’s not to say they all do. Instead of the orange icon, you might also look out for a small rectangular box in orange or white with the word RSS written on it. And while orange is the predominant colour associated with feeds, there are still plenty of unconventional icons out there.
It used to be the case that you needed to download a special program called an RSS reader to subscribe to feeds and you still can if you want to. Google Reader, Newsgator and Feedreader are all examples of dedicated readers. But the latest versions of the most popular web browsers, Internet Explorer 7 (IE7) and Firefox 3, have an RSS reader built in, which means one less program installed on your hard disk. So you have the tools, now all you need are some subscriptions, and subscriptions to all website feeds are free.
Subscribe to a feed
You typically subscribe to a feed through a link on the actual feed’s page, a fter which it will appear in your Feeds list. Towards the left-hand side of the IE7 toolbar, you’ll see a button bearing the RSS logo. If it’s grey, there are no feeds to be had. If it’s orange, click it to see which feeds are on offer. You can then click the name to see examples of previous updates from that feed, before deciding whether to click the link labelled, ‘Subscribe to this feed’ in the yellow box at the top of the page.
Updating your subscription status