Dumbing It Down: RSS Feeds For The Rest Of Us
Dumbing It Down: RSS Feeds For The Rest Of Us
by Jason Falls

CricketsAbout two minutes into a sales presentation for a recenlty-monetized feed subscription service, I looked around the room. Deers in headlights. Crickets chirping.

“Hold on!” I said, raising my hand. “Give me 60 seconds.”

I then turned to my clients and explained what an RSS feed and RSS feed reader were. The room lit up with it-getting and the salesman continued his spiel.

To his credit, he had no idea how tech-tarded his audience was and, considering we were meeting on the development of the client’s website, could have resonably assumed the topic wouldn’t be over their heads.

As I left the meeting, though, I realized the vast majority of people out there still have no clue what an RSS feed or feed reader is and how much more productive one can be if both are used properly. So here’s the Social Media Explorer primer on RSS, how to use it to make your web usage more productive and some thoughts on why RSS should be top-of-mind when building websites, not just blogs. (I know a lot of you are hip, just forward it to your tech-tard friends.)

My 60-second client spiel, which I offer to you for a C-level elevator speech, was this:

“A feed reader is like a single web page or an email inbox that displays the top 10 or so headlines from your favorite websites. You click on the headline and the view expands to show the article. Click again, it collapses, you move to the next headline. You pick the websites you want feeds from and they all show up in one place. Bold headlines are ones you haven’t read yet, so you know where to start. So long as your favorite websites, or blogs, have RSS feeds, you can have your entire daily web browsing experience on one page at one time. You’ll surf the web in at least half the time you used to if you use this.”

XMLRSS stands for really simple syndication. Most websites, especially blogs, offer them, sometimes represented as “XML” icons (over there), and most news sites, like newspapers and magazines, have feeds for each section. I subscribe to my local newspaper’s sports section, but not the main news or metro sections. I actually read the real paper still, but want updated sports info throughout the day.

RSS IconYou can find the RSS feed by looking for an icon similar to the one here (actually over there) or something similar. For some reason, orange is the color of choice for these things.

But you have to have someplace to read the feed. I use Google Reader because it’s free, simple and I’m certain at some point those of us drinking the Google-aide will get five shares of stock or something. My friend Nick got a bean bag chair from them once. Ah, if only we all controlled six-figure advertising budgets.

Sorry. Back to the blog.

Google Reader isn’t the only one that is free or easy to use. It’s just the one I choose. Most readers allows you to organize your feeds in folders. I have one for news, sports, public relations, search marketing, social media, etc. When I subscribe to a new feed, I put it in the folder it’s most related to so I see similar information grouped together. It also helps me know which folders I want to check often and others I can ignore for a couple days and review when I have time.

A perfect example is a folder I call “Annoying Blogs I’ll Read Later” where I put useful feeds like LIfehacker that might have 20 posts in a day, none of which are earth-shattering articles, but all of which I want to browse later.

You can also star articles for later reading, share them with friends using a Gmail account or even put our shared items on your blog for all to see. AND GET THIS … your shared items has its own RSS feed so riends can subscribe to what you choose to share with them.

I know, it’s sick, incestuous and somewhat confusing. But it’s so darn cool.

You can also group RSS feeds by client. My agency has a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) client and I like to stay abreast of the VoIP news of the day to counsel them appropriately. So, I subscribe to several VoIP-centered blogs and put them all in there.

I do not subscribe to anything Spice Girl-related. This prevents the ocassional projectile vomitting I might incur while browsing the internet the old way.

Now that you know how to subscribe, read and organize RSS feeds, you’ll surf the Internet more efficiently, leaving more time for Internet poker.

So it’s your turn. If you or your company uses RSS feeds creatively to organize thought, articles everyone should read (How’s about a ‘read this’ RSS feed on the company login dashboard that pulls from the CEO’s del.icio.us account?) or something different … let us know. Comment box below.

Oh, and if you haven’t already, Subscribe To My Feed Here. And if that’s not enough, I’ll share a cheap little trick to attract more subscribers I’ve got a patent on: Cute kids pimping you.

Still confused? Check out RSS in Plain English by the genui that are Common Craft on YouTube below.

Related Articles You’ll Find Interesting

1. RSS 101: Top 16 Links To Get You Started
2. Quick Guide On Using RSS Feeds
3. Reasons To Have A Vanity Folder In Your News Aggregator
4. NewsGator Moves RSS Feeds Into Corporate Life
5. How Do You Build Your RSS Subscribers?

[tags]RSS, RSS feeds, feeds, syndication, howto, feed reader, guide[/tags]