Social Media 102: Intro to RSS

Really Simple Syndication (RSS) is at the core of social media, which is why this course is among the first in the Social Media University, Global curriculum.

In essence, RSS is a way you can subscribe to get updates (RSS feeds or “Web feeds”) from Web sites that interest you. All you need is an RSS aggregator or feed reader (and you may have one built into your Web browser already!) If you’re using Firefox or IE7 for Windows, you have the ability to subscribe to RSS feeds “baked in.” Likewise on Safari for Mac OS.

Conversely, when you are producing content on the web as you become a more advanced SMUG student, RSS will be the way interested people can subscribe to your updates.

Among the best advantages is that RSS doesn’t get caught in spam filters. You don’t have to maintain a list of subscribers. They are self-selected.

Another neat thing about RSS with news sites is you can subscribe to just the sections that interest you, if the site owner has made those specialized feeds available. For instance, the Washington Post site has more than 150 separate feeds (see them in a new window) so you can tailor what news you receive. Look for the logo at the top of this post, or the XML graphic (see below).

And if you appreciate being able to fine-tune the information you receive by RSS, think of those who are reading  or listening to your material (if you have a podcast). You may want to provide multiple feeds, so people can choose.

You can read all about RSS here on Wikipedia, or better yet go to the Common Craft site to see the RSS in Plain English video (opens in a new window). I can’t recommend this video highly enough. Lee and Sachi LeFever may well be among the first candidates for Honorary Doctorates from SMUG.

Homework Assignments:

  1. Get an RSS reader/aggregator. If you aren’t getting RSS through your advanced browser, Google Reader is a great free online RSS aggregator. The Attensa products are free, too. If you have a laptop and would like to be able to read your feeds when you’re not connected to the Net (like when you’re on the bus or a plane), you might want to get a standalone reader like these from NewsGator for Mac or Windows.  There also are some plug-ins for Outlook that let you get RSS feeds in a folder that’s part of your email client. Here’s one of those from Attensa.
  2. Subscribe to the RSS feed from SMUG by clicking here. Pick one or more of the Washington Post feeds, too.
  3. Share your experience with your classmates. If you already have a way of reading RSS feeds, leave a comment below telling which reader or browser-based solution you use, and why. If you’re having any difficulty getting started with RSS, leave a note about that, too. It’s really important to get this step right. Understanding RSS, at least at the “Plain English” level, is an essential prerequisite for further study.

Remember, at Social Media University, Global your tuition is free, and we will never require anything in our homework assignments that would force you to spend any money.

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Author: Lee Aase

Married father of six and grandfather of seven, and the Chancellor of SMUG - Social Media University, Global. By day I'm the Director of the Mayo Clinic Social Media Network. Whatever I say here is my personal opinion, and doesn't reflect the positions of my employer.

54 thoughts on “Social Media 102: Intro to RSS”

  1. Hey, Lee, thanks for the great post. Attensa is a client of mine, and I use both the Outlook client on my PC and the web client on my Mac. They have a free Mac reader, too, but I’m on the go so much, it’s great to be able to pick up my feeds any time, anywhere.

    One of the coolest things about the Attensa readers – I can view blog posts, and actually comment or post about them to my own blog from right within the Attensa reader… that’s especially helpful for PR folks who want to pass information along to their colleagues without interrupting their attention flow.

    I am happy to see you’re still adding huge value in the blogosphere…

    Cheers! – Janet

  2. After setting up my rss and blog reader about 30 days ago, I’ve found that it’s really helping me get more involved and I’m actually reading more. Still trying to figure out how to keep on top of things though. What suggestions does anyone have for somehow pulling all “sources” into one place? I’m checking Facebook, LinkedIn, Google reader, now Twitter plus CollectiveX, and let’s not forget email 🙂

  3. Hi Peggy,
    What type of sources are you trying to pull together? The best way I have found to keep track of stories or posts that I like, is by using my del.icio.us page. If you haven’t already checked del.icio.us out you should! It is like your personal bookmarks, but saved online so you can access them anywhere!
    -Kelsey

  4. Lee,

    Your site is the best source of basic social media information I’ve seen. I love the way you distill it down into something completely digestible. I loved the Media Relations conference last week (and especially your presentation), but found myself feeling l have been out of college WAY TOO LONG!

    Thanks for making it a bit easier!

  5. I can’t wait to catch up on all of my courses! This is great…I currently have an internship at a PR firm and it’s mainly dealing with social media so I think this university will give me some great ideas.
    As for readers, I have been using FeedBurner for IE7, but I only have IE7 at work so I am now switching to Google.
    I really love Google by the way.

  6. Thanks for the easy instructions. I chose Google Reader. The Common Craft site to see the RSS in Plain English video was valuable. I had a chance to immediately apply the tip on how to copy and paste a URL into Google Reader when I tried to subscribe to one of the Washington Post feeds.

  7. Help please! I just downloaded the attensa product and it showed up on my outlook tool bar. So far so good. But when I subscribe to a rss news feed it shows up in my favorites on my internet explorer tool bar under rss feeds – nothing shows up in the attensa. Does anyone know how to fix this? I am assuming that if it shows up in the Attensa window I would actually see the updates there without having to go to the blog/web sites that I have subscribed to. Is this also correct? (that is what I learned from the video above). When I click on the attensa tool bar it shows that I have no subscriptions where my internet tool bar shows two. Thanks in advance for any help!

    1. Hi Susan – I’m not a Windows guy, but I think what might be happening is that you need to set your default preferences for RSS feeds at the system level, so that whenever you subscribe to a feed, Windows will choose Attensa instead of IE.

  8. I have used Google Reader for about two years and love it. I love having a Web-based reader that I can access from home or work. It allows me to organize each feed into categories, which is helpful for my many hobbies and interests.

    Looking forward to learning more!
    Jill

  9. I’ve been using Google Reader for a couple of years now. The biggest challenge I have noticed in using it is limiting the number of things I subscribe to. When I first started using it, I subscribed to anything and everything I was interested in. As a result, my reader got too cluttered and it became less useful to me. Since then, I’ve trimmed down my subscriptions and that has helped a lot. I’d like to figure out a way to categorize my subscriptions so that I could relegate “work/professional” related posts to one reader stream, dancing related posts to another, etc…

  10. The Attensa link doesn’t work. I’m not sure that they have a free product anymore. Can someone find out?

  11. I use Google Reader to subscribe to ESPN, friends’ blogs, and other news sources like NPR and WSJ. It’s awesome!

  12. I had no idea what RSS was before reading this article. I’m now using Google Reader to subscribe to websites that I visit frequently, and it is so much more convenient.

  13. I am using google reader and it is just such an easy way to keep track of cites I frequently keep track of. It is simple so that I don’t have to keep looking back to see if cites are updated. I keep track of emails, blogs, and new articles

  14. It was really nifty to finally figure out what RSS was. I unknowingly was already using google reader and it is so easy to keep track of all the blogs and sites I am keeping track of!

  15. I enjoyed the video on the Common Craft site, and plan to check out more of their site next. I signed up with Google Reader, but I’m wondering if there is a version for android? Time to go exploring! Fun!

  16. Google is a great way to get connected with a lot of social media sites. I had a gmail account, so I already had the RSS reader and didn’t even know it! Luckily, I have already subscribed to some blogs so I could see them in the reader.

  17. I already had a gmail account so I chose to go with the Google Reader. It was so easy to set up. I am really not all that into technology, however, this was really easy. I feel like I will be able to save so much more time.

  18. I use google reader to keep track of friends’ blogs all in one place! It is a wonderful tool that saves time from going between multiple websites for news and current events!

  19. I’ve heard about RSS in the past, but never really understood what it is. This course helped a lot. I’ve been enjoying Google Reader.

  20. I have an account with Google Reader. When I opened it yesterday it said that Google Reader will no longer be available after July of this year. Is there an easy way to switch to another RSS reader?

  21. I have always noticed the RSS icon on the top of most webpages I view on Safari, but never bothered to click on it to find out more. Now, after reading this article and looking into a few, I have caught on to the RSS trend and enjoy reading the articles in the same format as I would read a book on my Kindle.

  22. I am using the RSS Reader that is built into Mozilla Firefox. It was easy to figure out and subscribe to various feeds. I have never used RSS feeds before, much less known what they were. I subscribed to SMUG, the New York Times, and the Entertainment section of the Washington Post. This course helped me to understand what they are!

  23. Since I already have and often use my gmail account I went with Google Reader. It’s very easy to use and convenient.

    1. thanks for the heads up. i was getting frustrated about having to buy an rss reader for my macbook pro since it’s not installed in safari.

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