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RSS Feeds: The Best Way to (not) Surf the Web

Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
October 8, 2012 Deadline
November 2012 Issue

RSS Feeds: The Best Way to (not) Surf the Web

Surfing the World Wide Web on a daily quest for the latest news is inefficient and frustrating. I read stories from at least a dozen technology sites and the experience can be annoying. From too many advertisements to videos that start automatically, I don’t like the websites.

Why go from site to site when you can have latest news gathered conveniently in one place? No, I’m not suggesting you follow every news site on Google+ or Facebook. My Facebook feed is too cluttered to be useful for serious research and nobody I know uses Google+ on regular basis.

There is a better solution for news junkies, though.

The best way to read headlines is to use RSS feeds. With RSS, you can have the latest stories from your favorite news sources collected and organized in one location. I can open my RSS application and the latest headlines from more than 100 sources are sorted and highlighted according to my interests.

RSS, Really Simple Syndication, is a technical standard that enables websites, podcasts, and other Internet resources to announce headlines via small eXtensible Markup Language (XML) text files. RSS has a complicated history, including several name changes and a classic argument among major technology companies. There are even several versions of RSS, and a similar technology known as Atom.

The history isn’t important to most RSS users; we simply want our news without the extra multimedia fluff of most websites. I hate visiting news sites with videos and sound when I only want the latest headlines. RSS spares me the experience of videos that play without asking me first. Thankfully, most newspapers and magazines store the latest headlines and stories as RSS feeds.

Only the most recent news is stored in an RSS feed, and that is exactly what most users want. We don’t want to scroll through months or years of content to find new content.

Most blogging platforms generate RSS feeds. Blogger and WordPress, for example, include RSS feeds by default. This is how other sites can “subscribe” to a blog. Twitter and Facebook, for example, use RSS feeds to syndicate blogs and news headlines.

To use RSS, you need an RSS reader application that will collect and sort the RSS feeds from your favorite websites. There are three major types of RSS readers: dedicated feed applications, RSS-enabled applications, and Web-based readers. Many of the applications that support RSS feeds synchronize data with Web-based readers, meaning your news feeds are kept up-to-date on any computer, tablet, or smartphone with an Internet connection.

If a site supports RSS feeds, it likely will include one of three icons linking to the feed: an orange “broadcast” icon with a dot and two quarter-circles; an orange RSS button; or button labeled XML. Clicking the RSS icon will either add the RSS feed to a compatible reader application or result in an error indicating you need to install an RSS application.  

Web-Based RSS

I still use Google Reader  (http://reader.google.com/) to organize my favorite RSS feeds. Google doesn’t appear to be dedicated to improving Google Reader, which was launched in 2005. Still, it is the best RSS reader available online and it is free.

Adding feeds to Google Reader requires copying the RSS link from a site and pasting it into Reader. You can find several online tutorials for Google Reader, and the online help is good. However, if you aren’t familiar with copying and pasting links, you might want to try a different approach.

If you decide Google Reader doesn’t meet your needs, try the Google Chrome browser with Google’s official RSS extension. To add RSS features to Chrome, select the “Preferences” page and follow the “Extensions” link to the Google app store. Search for RSS and install the free Google RSS tools.

RSS and Windows

Microsoft supports RSS feeds in Internet Explorer and Outlook for Windows. In Internet Explorer 7 and 8, clicking the RSS icon will add a site’s feed to your bookmarks. For some reason, Microsoft decided to hide the RSS reader in Internet Explorer 9. To store an RSS feed, you need to hold the “Alt” key while selecting the “Tools” menu. Because Microsoft is hiding the RSS features in the new browser, many believe RSS support might be discontinued in the future.

Software developers are reluctant to compete against Microsoft. When the software giant shipped Internet Explorer, other Web browsers vanished from the market. With Microsoft including RSS support in its browser and email client, there are few alternatives available. However, I believe that is going to change since Microsoft no longer makes RSS tool easy to access.

Instead of struggling with IE 9, you might consider a third-party RSS reader. Available as a free “lite” edition with advertisements, FeedDemon (http://www.feeddemon.com) is a good RSS reader for Windows. For a small registration fee, you can remove the ads.

RSS and Apple OS X

For several years, Apple’s OS X Mail and Safari browser both supported RSS feeds. I used Safari’s RSS reader on my laptop and phone daily. Sadly, Apple did away with RSS support in OS X 10.8, better known as Mountain Lion. To use RSS feeds on Apple products, you now need to install an RSS reader application.

There are several great RSS readers for OS X. The best RSS applications include:

  • Vienna (http://www.vienna-rss.org/): Free and easy-to-use, but Vienna does rely on Google Reader to synchronize RSS feeds between computers. 
  • NetNewsWire (http://netnewswireapp.com/): Available as free, ad-supported editions for the iPad, iPhone, and Macintosh computers. NewNewsWire is my preferred RSS application. A small fee will remove the advertisements.
  • Caffeinated (http://www.caffeinatedapp.com/): Possibly the best RSS reader for OS X, Caffeinated is not free. It also can be a complex for new users. 
  • NewsFire (http://www.newsfirex.com/): Old, by Internet standard, but a great RSS reader. 


Other RSS Readers

If you want a powerful RSS reader that works on Windows, Linux, and OS X, then consider the free RSSOwl (http://www.rssowl.org/). My experiences with RSSOwl have been mixed. The program can seem slow and awkward, especially on an Apple computer. However, I consider it the best reader available for the Linux operating system.

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