Most netizens are vaguely familiar with this symbol:
RSS icon [IMG]
It represents Atom and RSS. From Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0):
“RSS (RDF Site Summary or Really Simply Syndication) is a web feed that allows users and applications to access updates to websites in a standardized, computer-readable format. These feeds can, for example, allow a user to keep track of many different websites in a single news aggregator. The news aggregator will automatically check the RSS feed for new content, allowing the list to be automatically passed from website to website or from website to user…Websites usually use RSS feeds to publish frequently updated information, such as blog entries, news headlines, or episodes of audio and video series.”
“The Atom format was developed as an alternative to RSS. Ben Trott, an advocate of the new format that became Atom, believed that RSS had limitations and flaws—such as lack of on-going innovation and its necessity to remain backward compatible—and that there were advantages to a fresh design.”
So that’s Atom and RSS in short. In the real world Atom/RSS feeds really don’t get the usage they deserve. For me an Atom/RSS feed reader is indispensable. Instead of checking 20 different web pages manually scanning each page for new content, I can just open my feed reader. It shows me all my web content in a streamlined fashion. Unlike social media, I have full control over my Atom/RSS feeds. In fact, Atom/RSS feeds are a big reason I don’t have social media accounts and haven’t for some time. Why go on social media when you can make it come to you? It’s easy to get feeds for most popular social media sites including but not limited to Youtube, Reddit, Tumblr, Medium, Wordpress, Blogger and Twitter.
I’m not inherently against social media. I’m just against proprietary walled gardens which is most social media that people actually use. Atom/RSS feeds make it easy to keep your distance from social media without missing out. I’m aware I could use free, federated social networks like Mastadon. I just don’t have a need. For future reference, if I sign up for social media, I’ll link my profile on my about page in the identity section. Any social media accounts not linked under the identity section claiming to belong to me or even appearing to be mine are sock puppets. For now I just have this blog.
How to Use Atom/RSS
Now that you know what Atom/RSS is and you have an idea what it’s used for, I’ll move on to the meat of this post: how to use Atom/RSS. To begin using Atom/RSS yourself, you’ll need to install a feed reader. There is mature feed reader software available for all major platforms including mobile. Decent feed readers support both Atom and RSS and you probably won’t need to know which is which. Most sites including this one still use RSS. I do plan to eventually switch my site feed over to Atom since it’s more modern.
Once you find the feed symbol
RSS icon [IMG]
on the webpage with the feed you want, just copy paste the link adding it into your feed reader and you’re golden. After that your reader will take care of retrieving the content from that feed automatically. If you can’t find a feed icon on a site, that doesn’t mean the site doesn’t support RSS. They may just not advertise it. Search the web for that site’s RSS feed to see if anything turns up. If nothing turns up, there are websites that will parse the page you want turning it into a web feed. As long as you’re not required to log in to view the content, you can probably find an RSS feed for it.
Decent Atom/RSS aggregators allow you to create groups of feeds, so you can combine related feeds or view them separately. You can even aggregate all your feeds into 1 big feed if that’s what you want. With Atom/RSS, the choice is yours. If you stop reading a feed, it’s as easy to remove from your aggregator as it was to add. Sites with lots of content offer Atom/RSS feeds based on category. For example if you’re only interested in my posts about “computing”, you can subscribe only to this RSS feed.
The experience you have with Atom/RSS ultimately boils down to the features your feed reader software has and how you set up your feeds. The greatest benefit of Atom/RSS in my opinion is Atom/RSS gives you have full control over the information you see and how it’s organized. Popular social media outlets rarely give you that level of control, so definitely give Atom/RSS a try if you’re not already using them.
I was motivated to write this post for the same reason I was motivated to write about using email. Seeing the way most people consume feed-based digital content leaves something to be desired. Most netizens don’t know there’s an easier way to get web content than going to each individual website meanwhile capturing all the Goo-lag analytics and tracking cookies in their browser.
I made this post just to spread awareness that Atom and RSS are useful, easy to use, and ubiquitous on websites. I’d really like to see them gain more popularity. It was one of those things I couldn’t not write about because so many people are missing out on it. People who are already aware of Atom/RSS probably didn’t learn much but this post is only an introduction for those that have never used them before. Regardless, I hope you learned something and happy aggregating!