What is an RSS feed? Here’s why you should still use one

With so much new content being added to the web daily, it can be hard to keep up with what’s going on online. People try many different methods, including visiting specific websites every day, doing Google searches, or relying on social media to keep them informed. One solution that is sometimes overlooked is an old-fashioned solution: RSS feeds.

What is an RSS feed? It’s a technology that has influenced many of the modern Internet tools you’re familiar with, and its streamlined, algorithm-free format could make it your next great tool for reading what you want online.

What is RSS?

Illustration showing the SelectFeed menu after selecting the RSS feed icon.
Image used with permission of the copyright holder

What RSS means depends on who you ask. The main consensus is that it means “really simple syndication”. But you may also have heard that it stands for “Rich Site Summary.” However, at its core, RSS essentially refers to simple text files with essential, updated information – news pieces, articles, that kind of thing. That stripped-down content is plugged into a feed reader, an interface that instantly converts RSS text files into a stream of the latest updates from the Web.

As Internet content became more complex, RSS files also increasingly adopted images, videos, and more, but still in a different format for more seamless loading and compatibility across all feed readers. Readers usually update automatically to deliver the latest content straight to your device. This approach allows Internet users to create their own online feed filled with custom updates from sites they regularly visit.

I thought RSS was old. Is it still used online?

Yes and no. RSS feeds certainly still exist (more on this later), but they’re not as effective as they used to be. Social media sites like Facebook, X (formerly known as Twitter), LinkedIn and others have become the preferred choice to follow sites, view feeds and learn about the latest content. Other online options like Google News or Google Discover collect full links to the latest stories, as well as algorithms to select stories you might be interested in.

Interest in RSS feeds has declined over the past several years. Online brands already need to post on social media for their marketing goals, and they may not want to take extra time to convert content into a bunch of RSS files. This extra effort is why a new blog or website can offer subscription content simply by following them on social media, but no RSS feed. Google doesn’t even seem to support RSS feeds anymore, and Google Reader is an older effort. However, RSS feeds are still in place.

How can RSS feeds make my life easier?

Screenshot showing the interface of Feedly.
Image used with permission of the copyright holder

RSS feeds are great for getting an in-depth look at new content from a site – not just content uploaded to social media. If you’re really dedicated to a site and want to see everything it has to offer, an RSS feed is still the best way to make sure you don’t miss a thing. This is an excellent alternative to social media if you want news and articles without an X or Facebook account.

Additionally, RSS feeds are often very easy to read at your leisure and will update even if you are not online – they are especially useful for catching up on news during your free time. Thus, due to the emergence of well-designed mobile apps that act as feed readers, RSS feeds have become a beneficial tool.

What are the best feed readers?

A gaming RSS feed is displayed on the tablet screen.
Image used with permission of the copyright holder

There are many types of these. However, some of the most popular include:

feed reader

FeedReader is a simple, minimalist reader that makes curation easy with basic categories and accessible tools. It has a great preview option to see what the RSS feed looks like before you sign up, and it gives alternative options if you decide you don’t like that particular feed.

Feedly

Feedly can be used for entertainment and business purposes (for example, following competitors and keeping track of industry news). It has a simple interface with basic categories to collect different RSS feeds and a home page full of the latest news from everywhere. Feedly is currently one of the most popular feed readers online, although it was the victim of an attack in 2014.

menu

Flipboard has won praise for its beautiful design that looks especially good on mobile devices. This is an excellent option if you want a more organic, e-zine-like way to read the latest news from your favorite sources.

old reader

It may sound archaic, but The Old Reader’s name only highlights its simplicity. Although it still enjoys some social elements, its main function is for you to easily parse and organize the news feed with support for tablet, desktop and mobile devices.






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