Nov 11, 2010

RSS-Feeds Save You Lots of Time by Surfing for You!


Here's the English version of my German article on RSS feeds. Have you ever wondered what the symbol to the left means? Or what RSS feeds are? Just follow the jump!



Who likes to surf around the blogosphere will know that saving too many bookmarks in your browser is unpractical: You can't possibly visit all sites you are interested in every day - perhaps only to notice that there weren't even any updates posted since your last visit. Luckily, already ten years ago, people have started searching for solutions to this problem. They developed a system that automatically sends notifications when a new post is added to a blog: RSS*. RSS "feed" means something like "fresh supply", and refers to the distinct link you'll have to save in order to receive the desired updates. You might have noticed the RSS symbol above either from browsers like Firefox (in the right corner of the address bar from version 1.5 onwards where a feed is available, sometimes also in blue) or from sidebars of blogs like this one.

When you click on that symbol, the feed of the page you are visiting will be offered to you for subscription, either for your browser's bookmarks or your private feed reader. A feed reader works like a mailbox - it will receive all posts you subscribed to and sort them chronologically backwards with the newest article on top. For this to work, all you need to do is open your feed reader alongside the blog or web page you are viewing (either in a new window or tab) and copy and paste the URL shown after you clicked on the RSS symbol. The feed reader I am using is Google Reader, but there are many more: Bloglovin', also web-based, is famous with the fashion bloggers and NetNewsWire (downloadable) is popular with Mac fans. All these readers are available for free.

Sometimes, RSS subscriptions will be offered to you in a format called Atom. Atom is an advancement of RSS and allows bloggers who know their HTML and XHTML well to share their content in an "unmistakable", i.e. consistent format - no matter which RSS feed readers their subscribers use.

Personally, I think that providing your readers with the possibility to subscribe to an RSS feed is very important: Firstly it's a nice thing to do, because it's convenient for everyone involved; you will always be on top of what's happening. Secondly, you will receive more clicks per post (as opposed to less, like some people assume):

Usually, RSS feed readers generate traffic while scanning for updates. Some feed readers even visit web pages more than once an hour. This means the number of visitors to your site will go up, even though your readers don't directly surf by your blog. Thanks to RSS, people will get to see your content even though they might have never visited your blog again. Especially for blogs with a URL that's difficult to remember, RSS makes a lot of sense. Is it just me or is any web address containing "... .blogspot.com" or "... .wordpress.com" hard to keep in mind already?

In any case, there is no need to artificially shorten your feed posts, even though some blogging software might allow for that. It's absolutely OK to let feed readers collect your posts as a whole. Some bloggers think that letting feed readers grab only the beginning of a post will cause people to click on the original link behind the feed post, and view the content on their blogs directly. You shouldn't copy their behaviour, as they are obviously trying to manipulate their readership numbers. An internal jump like the one above is different, by the way. It is only there because I didn't want to overload my blog's first page with too much content. It doesn't influence the way this post is displayed in RSS feeds at all.

* These days, RSS is understood as an abbreviation for Really Simple Syndication, earlier on it used to mean Rich Site Summary. 

Should you have any more questions, corrections or other remarks, please leave a comment - I'd appreciate it! 

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