A feed reader, also known as an RSS reader, allows you to subscribe to many websites or blogs, and get updates to them all in one place.
For example, let's say that there are 10 or 20 different sites that you visit from time to time. These might include your friends' and family's blogs, and sites about topics that interest you. You probably don't have time to visit each of these websites every day, just to check if there's something new. If you hold subscriptions to these sites in your feed reader, however, all you need to do is open your feed reader and you'll see which of your subscribed sites have something new. The feed reader will list headings and summaries of new blog entries or news items at sites you've subscribed to.
It's now much easier to keep up, especially with sites and blogs that aren't often updated.
The reader will also keep track of which items you've read, and allow you to flag old items to come back to later.
To be able to subscribe to a site in a feed reader, the site must have a news feed. Virtually all blogs have a news feed. That even includes your own blog, and this one! Many other websites have news feeds too.
A news feed is usually indicated by this orange icon:
Alternatively, it may sometimes be referred to as "RSS", "Atom" or "XML", still often with an orange button.
Setting up a feed reader
There are two types of feed readers. Firstly, there are feed readers that you use on the web. All you need to do is create an account and log in. Examples of web-based feed readers include Google Reader and Bloglines. Secondly, there are feed readers which need to be downloaded and installed on your computer. The advantage of the first type, web-based readers, is that getting started is much quicker, and you can access them from any computer.
For this task, you'll need to set up a feed reader of your choice. If you are unsure of what you're doing, I'd recommend Google Reader.
Go to the Google Reader site. You probably already have a Google account. If you have a blog with Blogger it's the same account. Otherwise, create a Google account now. When you do so, you'll need to respond to their email entitled "Google Email Verification". Once you've done that, go back to Google Reader and you'll be ready to add some subscriptions.
If you've managed to set up a feed reader, congratulations! Now you'll just need to add some subscriptions.
In the next couple of tasks, we'll guide you through the process of adding some subscriptions to your feed reader.
There are links at the bottom of this task with more information about feeds, if you are interested.
Technically, a feed is an XML file. It has one of three competing formats, two of which are called RSS, and the other called Atom. A website must have one of these files in order to be subscribed to and read in a feed reader. You shouldn't need to worry about which format you use, as feed readers support all of them.
- "RSS in Plain Engish", a short video on YouTube explaining what RSS feeds are and how they're used
- Feed reader entry on WikiPedia
- Google Reader
- RSS file format entry on WikiPedia
- Really Simple Syndication, an RSS format
- RDF Site Summary, a competing RSS format
- Atom, a competitor to both RSS formats