The term “feeds” is not about eating. It is about “feeding” you information from the web that you need to help you as you travel on the road or on the Internet. A “feed” or “webfeed” is a term for delivering summaries of web content, such as web pages, news, press releases, and other content to your computer in a short and “condensed” form.
There is a LOT of information on the Internet. Keeping up with all of it is time consuming and tedious. Feeds make it possible for websites to “feed” you their content so you can go through the information quickly and easily, and in one place. Basically, their websites come to you rather than you go to them. From your feed reader, each site’s posts or summaries includes a link to their website’s content, so with one click, you can access the information you want and not have to go digging around. If you are following developments or content at a number of websites, using their feeds will help you to keep up with the information fast and easy.
Think of feeds as the headline news. Like the table of contents of a magazine, enticing you to flip to page 42. Got it?
I loved this description from USC Annenburg Online Journal Review article on RSS Feeds:
These days it’s not easy being an infowarrior. As the number of blogs and niche news sites continue to soar, how do you keep on top of everything?
While most Netizens still surf to Web sites to catch the latest postings, more users have found that to be a laborious, time-consuming way to browse. Instead they are installing “newsreader” software that constantly plucks feeds from Weblogs and news outlets and pulls them together onto a single screen.
Real Life Example of Using a Feed Reader
In the morning after I’ve responded to all the emergencies that seem to greet me lately, I click the button in my browser that accesses my feeds. It’s called a “feed reader”. I use Sage, a free extension or add-on for Firefox, my web browser. In the sidebar, a list of sites, which resemble Favorites or Bookmarks, is visible. I currently get feeds from over 25 websites, including my own. I click a button which instructs the feed reader to go down through the list and check for new content on the feeds at the various sites on the list.
If there is new content, the link turns bold. In the bottom section of the sidebar column is a listing of the posts summarized in the browser window for that site. I can go down through that list, hover my mouse over a link, and a small window will pop up with the first 100 or so words of the post. If I click the link, it will open that page in my browser. If I view or “read” that page, the bold will go away on that link as an indicator that I’ve read the page.
In my browser window is also the summaries or full posts of the content on that site. Instead of using the links in the sidebar, I can scroll down the list and read or click on any link on the page to instantly view that page.
By marking what I have read or not read, or not interested in, the next time I use my feed reader, it will only bold the things I haven’t read. I can quickly scroll down the list of sites looking for the bolded site names and links and determine at a glance what is worth paying attention to on the list.
I can pour through the content of 25 websites in a few minutes, taking only time to read what I want and go on. MINUTES where it used to take hours.
Feeds for the Traveler
What I’ve described is great for the average user who wants to keep up with a consistent list of sites and information. Feeds for travelers is of even greater value.
When you are traveling, finding an Internet connection can be a challenge, and once you find one, your time online may be brief. You don’t have time to go through your favorite sites to catch up on the news and information. You have to get the information and get offline. Feed readers can help.
Feeds save time for short access times or even slow dial up connections, allowing you to gather the information you need and then get offline.
When you connect online, update your feeds immediately, so they can load while you get your email and get your immediate tasks done, like check bank accounts, credit card statements, flight times, or find maps. When the most critical tasks are done, go back to your feed reader and scan through the list of updates. If there is something of interest, click the site, and when it comes up in the browser, choose File, Save As, and save the web page to your hard drive. When you are done, disconnect. Then you can then read through these saved pages at your leisure, disconnected from the Internet. Some feed readers even feature built-in page saving features which make your life on the road even easier.
Why Should You Use Feeds?
We’ve covered the concept of fast and easy, but I want to address another reason why feeds re so valuable to use.
Remember the days of newsletters and magazines arriving in your mailbox? They were soon replaced with emailed newsletters, journals, life stories, and magazines. So much information you could barely keep up with all of it. Feeds are no different. They are the newsletters and magazines of today. The difference is that they don’t clutter up your living space and YOU choose what to allow into your “home” and you can eliminate it without pain and suffering. If you want timely information without wasting a lot of time, use feeds.
When you signed up for emailed newsletters and mailing lists, you risk exposing yourself to email spam? Handing out your email address to just anyone runs that risk. When you use feeds, you do so anonymously without giving any information out. You keep up with the news and stay protected from spammers and email harvesters.
There are even more benefits for me, the website owner, as well as for you. I outline some of them in the article on Site Administration – Feeds Help Manage Your Site. For example, I was asked a few years ago to create a “What’s New” page to keep track of the changes and new content on our site. I did so, but it became tiresome to maintain since we are constantly adding new information. I’d only update it quarterly, so visitors to our site in the interim wouldn’t know which articles were really new or updated. Feeds allow us to call attention to all the changes and new articles we make on our site. Within a few seconds, you know right away what is new. It helps us by helping you stay updated with our activities and site content.
Feeds also present content. We work really hard to provide solid information and entertainment on our site. It’s not about how pretty our site it (though I do think it is much improved and prettier), and it isn’t about the bells and whistles we have on our site. Viewing our site through a feed reader strips away all the “pretty” and reveals the content, the words and pictures that provide helpful information you may need. It puts the focus back on “content”, something often forgotten by today’s web pages.
There are a variety of feed readers out there. They are also known as aggregators and news readers. There are also a variety of feeds. The most popular feeds are RSS and Atomz.
There are basically four different styles of feed readers. Stand-alone independent readers that require no other software will gather the information and display it in their program. Web-based services allow you to keep track of your feeds via a web page, which is great for the traveler using Internet cafes and borrowed computers. Plugins or extensions for use within web browsers, and built-in feed readers which come with the software you are using like a web browser or email program.
Once you have chosen a feed reader, you have to find the feeds. There are thousands, possibly millions, of feeds out there. We have a list of feeds available on our site listed by feed type, category, comments, or the whole site.
When you are visiting a website, some web browsers, like Firefox, will alert you if the site features a feed with an icon in the status bar. Many websites will feature icons in the sidebar or footer to highlight their feeds. If you find a feed link, you can usually click and drag it to your feed reader’s feed list. But the easiest way to find a feed on a site is to use your feed reader to search the page for feeds. With one click, it will scan the site, looking for links to feeds, and then report back on what it finds.
From that report, you can choose which feed you want to follow. Once you have chosen a feed to follow, remember that if you grow tired of it or it isn’t providing you with the information you need, you can always delete it from the list.
On occasion a feed from a site will break. You will get some kind of warning that the feed wasn’t found or not available or an error. This might be fixed in a few minutes or a few days, but be patient. If it isn’t repaired in a day or so, and you have the time, visit the site and contact the site owner to let them know there’s a problem. I know that I would appreciate that since I don’t check our site’s feed every day.
Here are some of the popular feed readers:
Now that you are excited about feeds, it’s time to find some. There are many feed aggregator services and feed directories, with new ones popping up all the time. But begin by visiting your favorite sites first. If they don’t have a feed, and you visit their site often, consider asking the site owner to add one to their site.
Here are some aggregators and directories to help you find feeds.
For the traveler, here are a few feed resources with the traveler in mind.
To learn more about feeds and feed readers, here are a few resources.