RSS feeds are something awesome that my friend Matt introduced me to a few year ago that I still think about half of generally internet-savvy twenty-somethings (who I take to be the bulk of the audience for the blog) don’t know about, so I figured as a public service I’d write an explanation of what an RSS feed is and a little paean to why they’re so cool.
RSS stands for Real Simple Syndication, with the key word there being syndication. RSS feeds take websites that regularly produce content (most commonly blogs, but also other news or media sites) and aggregates them together for you in one place, pushing them to you so you don’t need to constantly check individual websites. You can also organize the content the various websites produce into folders, so if you’re in the mood to read (say) celebrity news, you can look at all the blogs you like in one place, and if you are feeling sports, you can do the same. All you do is click the little RSS button that should be somewhere to the side of the blog you’re reading; it’ll ask you what feed service you use (I use Google Reader, which works well, but I would basically just use something that you can put onto whatever home page you use). You click the right option, it subscribes you, and then you’ll be updated (on whatever you use to read your RSS stuff, i.e. Google Reader) whenever there’s a new post.
When Matt first showed me this, I didn’t see the point; after all, it doesn’t take much time to check a website to see if there’s a new post. In reality, it’s been a godsend. I think RSS has two basic selling points. First, the time savings are real and much bigger than you’d think. Each time you go to a webpage, it takes a (small) amount of time to type in the link and load up the site. When you add all of these small increments of time, it actually means you’re saving a decent amount each day if you are an inveterate consumer of blogs and media content like me. A fact that demonstrates this is how badly RSS-users hate feeds that require clickthroughs (e.g. the NY Times). Many RSS users won’t subscribe to these feeds because of the perceived inefficiency and time loss.
The second god point about RSS is that it allows you to follow blogs and sources of content that post infrequently. Since RSS pushes the content to you, you don’t need to remember to check that blog you like by the person who only posts once a month. Instead, just add it to your RSS feed, and whenever you check your Google reader, it’ll be a pleasant surprise, much like RSS pleasantly surprised me with its own usefulness.