About RSS – how to keep updated

I’ve had some questions from people wondering if there is some sort of email list for notifications of updates. There isn’t but there are other options.

The simplest way to get updates is to take advantage of what is known as RSS. If you know about this already, good, then you’re excused. Otherwise, read on for more…

I have limited knowledge of this, but I’ll explain it as I know it. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. It’s basically a file that contains a list of items. We call this file a feed. There are many different types of feeds you may come across including RSS, XML, and Atom, but I’ll just say feed and you’ll know what I mean. Almost every blog or news site that is updated regularly has a feed. For example, there is a feed associated with this site. Every time a new post, or article, is created the feed will reflect that.

That’s fine, but what do you do with a feed?
There are programs called news aggregators that read feeds. You tell them the address of the feed and send them out to the web and they come back with all the new headlines in one convenient window. This is called a subscription. You can subscribe to as many feeds as you like. The benefit to subscribing is that you don’t have to run all over the internet every day looking at your favorite sites. All you have to do is fire up your aggregator and it comes back with whatever is new. This has changed the way I surf the web (is that term uncool yet?).

Where do I get an aggregator?
A few types of aggregators exist.

There are online websites that act as aggregators. Two of these are Bloglines and Waggr.

There are programs you can download that act as desktop news aggregators. The one I use on my Mac is NetNewsWire. For Windows you can try SharpReader or FeedDemon.

A few browsers can also read feeds. Firefox (Mac & Windows) and the new version of Safari RSS (Mac) will not only read feeds, they know when you’re on a page that has a feed, making it easier to bookmark them. In Firefox, if a page has a feed, you will see an orange icon in the lower right corner of the window. In Safari a blue RSS icon will appear at the right side of the address bar. When you see either of these, click them to access the feed.

Feeds have been around for a couple years. You have my highest recommendation to make use of them.

Feeds can turn MP3s into Podcasts.
Adam Curry (yes, from MTV) realized that a feed could be used to deliver an enclosure (typically an MP3 audio file). When a feed is set up to do this, it’s called a podcast. (That comes from combining the terms iPod and broadcast. By the way, this doesn’t require an iPod, but the term has stuck and that’s what we call it.)

There are aggregators called podcast clients made to specifically read podcast feeds. Two of the most popular programs are iPodder (available for seemingly every platform) and iPodderX (my program of choice for the Mac). Don’t let the names confuse you, they’re different programs.

So logically, if you subscribe to this podcast feed with your podcast client (iPodder or iPodderX), it will go out and look for new shows and when it finds them, they will be automatically downloaded to your computer. The two programs I mention will also dump the files into iTunes if you want. Many people who like to listen to various podcasts will start their podcast client when they go to bed at night, and in the morning all the new shows will be downloaded and ready to enjoy. Then you can either listen to them straight through the computer or put them in your mobile music player of choice and take them on the road. There are so many podcasts I subscribe to, I haven’t listened to regular radio in over two months.

OK, I’m drooling at the mouth. Where can I find these feeds?
If you want The Animation Podcast feed to put in your podcast client so that you get the shows automagically here it is:


Select it all, copy it, then open iPodder or iPodderX and click the new subscription button and paste this into the resulting window.

If you want the feed that lists all the content of The Animation Podcast so that you can see any updates, including new posts, you will find that at the bottom of every page where it says Entries (RSS). You should right-click this (or control-click on a Mac) and select Copy from the pop-up menu so that you can paste the feed into your aggregator.

Now that you know what a feed is, look for them on other websites you visit often. They are often noted as a little orange rectangle with the letters RSS or XML. Other times they will say Atom or Feedburner. And still other times they will simply be a link that says feed. Whichever the case, right-click (or control-click on a Mac) and copy and paste it into your aggregator for a much more streamlined web experience.

You’ll find feeds all over the place. Heck, this post even has it’s own feed for the comments. If you subscribe to that, you can follow all the comments that are posted here. Pretty cool, huh?

Any questions? Add them to the comments so that everyone can learn. Good luck.

8 Comments on “About RSS – how to keep updated

  1. Seward Street proudly endorses FeedDemon as the news aggregator of choice! The developer gives great support and it will save you hours of time on the web. I use it to catch up on 40-50 blogs a night!

    Oh, and Clay…where’s the next podcast?!?!

  2. Jim, did I explain all this all right? It made sense to me but that’s, uh…me.

    Still working on putting Show 2 together. Besides, the intro voice is out of town. I can’t open the show without her!

  3. I like to use Bloglines. It doesn’t involve downloading any sofware which means I can check and keep up with my blog list from any computer. It also has a lot of nice fetures. If I remeber something I read off of someones blog but can’t remeber which one I can do a search of only my blogs and find it rather quicly. It also has a clippings directory where you can cut out blog entrys and save them for later.

  4. Yes, I have a Bloglines account and it is convenient to have access to my list from anywhere. The only frustrating part that I’ve experienced is that sometimes it takes a while to update feeds. When that happens I got at it the old fashioned way and start jumping from one bookmark to the next, kind of defeats the purpose. When I’m at home, nothing beats a newsreader because when I send it out to get the feeds, I know it’s up to date. Too bad none of these programs hasn’t made an online site that syncs with the desktop app so that you can have the best of both worlds working as one.

  5. Since this is a more technical post, is there anyone out there who can look at the code for my sidebar and explain why the links all get underlined when the mouse is over one of them in Safari? I can’t figure out what’s wrong. Thanks.

    UPDATE: Nevermind, I think I fixed it.
    — Clay

  6. how can i download the podcasts to my computer so i can listen to them offline and on my mp3 player…. I cant seem to download them, only as i listen to them…. thanks

  7. Emma –

    You can get the shows on your computer a couple ways. One way is to look in each post and right click on the link or the blue podcast icon that says ‘Get the MP3 here’ and from the menu that should pop up, select ‘Save Link As…’ and save it to your hard drive. You can go through all the shows and do this. That’s the manual way.

    The easier way is to subscribe in iTunes. If you don’t have iTunes, download it from Apple. Find the link in the sidebar of my website that says Subscribe in iTunes and click it. That should take you to my page in iTunes. Once there, click the subscribe button. You will be taken to a list of all your subscribed podcasts. (If this is your first subscription, my show will be the only one there.) The latest show will start downloading. To get the older shows, go down the list and click the Get buttons for all of them. Now all the shows will be on your computer and you can play them from there.