How to make RSS work for you.

Here’s a fun fact for you: RSS feeds are incredibly useful, but many people are completely unaware of their purpose and utility. Furthermore, tracking actual RSS feed usage is nigh impossible with so many websites transmitting feeds and various services to aggregate them. Arguably the most popular RSS feed reader, Google, is shutting down its services next month (which makes me very, very sad). However, news aggregator website Digg is stepping up to the plate to offer its own RSS reader service just as Google’s goes down. I’ll be interested to check out the new interface and features, but it looks as if Digg is really putting a lot of effort into the new product, and could help revitalize the company. There’s a reason why you should care about this, but before I get into it, maybe we should talk about RSS feeds in and of themselves first.

So, what’s an RSS feed, anyway? RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, and it’s a way for websites (especially blogs) to tell you when they’re updated. Most websites have the function built in, but there are some that don’t. What’s great about RSS feeds is that you can keep track of your favorite websites without having to frequently visit them to see if they’ve been updated. Instead, you can check one source, an RSS feed reader, and view all your favorite website and blog updates at your leisure. You would plug a website address into your Google Reader account and it would “subscribe” you to that website’s feed. Anytime the website was updated, you would see that update on your Google Reader page annotated by a number next to that particular website (if there are multiple updates). You can click through to get a preview of each update, and go to the page directly if you want to read it further. There are also many other feed reading applications available. My current favorite is a desktop and mobile application called Reeder, which offers tons of great options (saving directly to Evernote being a major one). Another great web-based and mobile application is Feedly, which has a very slick web design and minimalist smartphone app interface.

But RSS feeds can be used in a lot of other ways besides just news. I have RSS feeds set up to scour for keywords in search engines to alert me to new happening in social media, job openings, and other topics of interest. Some of these, like social media, are linked to my Buffer account (which queues social media posts across several accounts and trickles the posts throughout the day) through an online application called IFTTT (if this, then that), which does something really neat! When breaking news about social media hits, it comes across my RSS feed. When it does, it activates IFTTT, which I have told to take those social media stories and put them in my Buffer queue to be Tweeted. I’m actively curating content about the topic that I enjoy in real time! I’ve also set up RSS feeds for purchasing particular items on Craigslist, looking for housing, and as I mentioned earlier, job openings.

So you can see some interesting ways that to use RSS feeds that can be particularly useful. I strongly believe that if more people realized not only the potential of RSS, but how to use and harness its power, it would become more widely adopted. But who knows? Perhaps when Digg launches its new RSS service, things will chain for the homely RSS feed!

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