What is RSS, and how can I use it? Student Rss

November 4th, 2007
By Jon H
What is RSS, and how can I use it? Student Rss

The image to the left is that of an RSS button, an image that you will find on most blogs, but, what is it and how does it work?

Today at R2G I’m going to go through a step-by-step process of what the funny orange button is, what feed readers are, what software you can use for storing, organising and reading a feed, and what I believe will happen in the future for RSS and college/university students. If you’re advanced and know what RSS is, then this post is still for you, as I do take a different stance on RSS and its positive aspects for the future.


Back a little while ago I began to spot the little orange button with two lines and a dot on web-sites that had interesting content. These web-sites actually turned out to be weblogs, or blogs as they’re more commonly known; this was a few years ago in 2002. I thought to myself ‘go on just click it, see what it does’ and went to a page where some more information was. This turned out to be an XML version of the information contained on the blog (basically a shortened ‘overview’ version).

Not really understanding what this was, I went onto the wikpediaweb-site to see what a blog, RSS and a web-feed was. I found out that the blog sent the information to the RSS and that RSS is content that is updated continuously – can be a blog, news or podcast. So, RSS (Really Simple Syndication) will deliver information on news and blog posts to users who want it – there’s not more bookmarking blogs and searching them to see if there is anything new to read, you can simply log into your feedreader and it will update you with what is new on a blog.

Using a feedreader rather than using the XML Bookmark in my browser meant that it would be easier for me to view new and interesting content and I wouldn’t have to search each day for it – oh and if you subscribe to a blog, RSS feeds aren’t like email, the information won’t dump in your spam box even though it isn’t spammy – this happened to me with my uni email, from a newsletter that I signed up to. I didn’t realise that the newsletter would be filtered off and never appear in my in-box, because it was considered ‘too spammy’, crazy, but true!

The Past

  • You had to bookmark and search content on a blog/site
  • Tracking different blogs would become confusing if you’re reading blogs covering similar topics
  • You miss checking your bookmarks and read new stories late
  • You see the same information time and time again because you keep checking

The Present

  • Your reader allows you to add blogs at the blog site, or searching for its name/keywords of the blog
  • You can section your blogs into categories, such as essay blogs, student finance blogs, and study tips blogs
  • Your reader updates each time new information is released

But, how do you get it? Read on……

Feed Readers

Throughout the web there are many feed readers you can choose from – Google reader, Bloglines, Newsgator, My Yahoo, Rojo, Pluck, and many more. These are known as web-based feedreaders, which are becoming more common and most people have stopped using computer RSS software like RSSOwl. Getting a feed reader like Google reader or Bloglines is really simple and I’ve used both of them. Which would I choose? It would have to be Google reader, simply because I prefer the layout of this reader, how the reader displays new posts and that there is so much interactivity for users.

I, like many, have only become recently used to using a feedreader, learning what it can do and how it works. I used to bookmark blogs, check the RSS bookmark daily and wonder if I’d seen the article headline before – I read on average 12 – 20 blogs a day so it was reasonably difficult. This was really frustrating, and using a feedreader allows me to view a number of ‘feeds’ all at once.

Access Anywhere

By having a web-based feedreader, such as Google reader or Bloglines as mentioned above, you will be able to view updates of blogs you read often, whilst on the move and travelling, as well as on your friends PC, or of that at your college/university. Similar to logging into online banking or a web-based email account, logging into your feedreader can be done anywhere and at anytime. A more positive aspect of this, is that you don’t need any software installed on a PC and any potential barriers are removed – provided you have access to the Internet you can read the latest news of course.

How to subscribe to a Blog

Subscribing to a blog is becoming easier and easier. By bloggers posting information and posts about how to use RSS and feedreaders (like this one), the Internet community is becoming more adept at understanding how to be kept informed and updated. You can subscribe to a blog in a few ways:

  1. On the site – by selecting the RSS feed button or similar
  2. In your browser
  3. Searching for the blog through your feed reader

On site subscription

FeedlogosIf you have read any type of blog, then you’ll have noticed many widgets popping up on your favourite ones. They come in all shapes and sizes and the different designs have sometimes amused me. The most popular readers and some common designs are just here on the right, but typing ‘feed reader’ into google will provide you with many more. Once you’ve clicked the appropriate button, you’ll be asked how you would like to subscribe.

Browser Subscription

Subscribing in your browser isn’t something that I would recommend for the long-term; however, if you haven’t used RSS before and want to learn a little more, then I suggest choosing and subscribing to a blog in your browser.


When you visit a blog with an RSS feed that you can subscribe to, like road2graduation’s, then you will see the subscriber RSS button in your browser Rsssymbol. Once you click on the RSS button you will be taken to the blog’s RSS feed, where you can choose your feedreader, or subscribe by xml – which will add the particular blog to your list of bookmarks in your browser. Please note: I would only recommend this as a temporary measure, as reading blogs via an xml bookmark can become very time consuming.


Using your Feed Reader

A feedreader such as Google Reader will allow you to search for specific blogs, or use its search capabilities to view blogs with a certain term or keyword. The reader will then allow you to subscribe to the blog via RSS and will instantly update the information in your account/area. You can separate blogs into different categories, such as essay writing help, dissertation stuff, general, and presentations to name just a few. You can login (as I do) everyday, every few days, or even once a week to catch up on the information that has been posted.


Whichever subscription method you choose to subscribe to a blog you will receive the same information. Sometimes bloggers actually promote subscription to RSS readers and offer special offers to their subscribers (R2G is hoping to do this in the middle of 2008).

The Future

In the future RSS will develop, maybe into something smarter maybe not, but with the world changing to a 24 hour global culture I’m sure we’re bound to see some improvement towards instant updates in the years to come. As a student, more technology is being introduced into your life everyday, and to enable other things to fit in, using a reader to update yourself of the latest news and information will give you more time for other more important tasks.

I don’t think it will be long before lectures are broadcast on video and lecturers setup class forums on their topic, and maybe there are some already. This will lead to a pool of resources that will be to everyones benefit – learning from past information and possible mistakes.

Not convinced about RSS? Use email subscription

Rss-emailHas the explanation above confused you a little bit too much? You could choose a different way to subscribe that makes things less complicated and delivers the same information by a different and more common method – email. At R2G I understand that not everyone will want to subscribe to the feed via RSS and may be a little wary of the whole RSS ‘thing’. Simple. You can subscribe by email and have all the posts delivered to your inbox after they’re posted – this (I have found) is generally within 4–6 hours of the post being published, provided that the blog owner has set the distribution to this and not some other format, such as twice a week or every two days. You’ll always be asked to confirm your email subscription with R2G (combating spam) and you can un-subscribe at anytime, with all private and sensitive information being kept confidential.

Further Information/Resources

Still a little confused about RSS and Feed readers? Then take a look at the video below.

The Discussion

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