I have an admission to make: until recently, although I knew what an RSS feed was, I really didn’t understand how they worked or why I might need them. But then I got more heavily involved with process automation…
You see, RSS feeds have been around since, like, forever in terms of the internet, and we all know that what is the new technology this year will be old hat next year. So surely RSS feeds have long had their day? Oh dear no, I could not have been more wrong.
In my post today I am going to demystify the whole RSS subject matter, and answer these questions:
- What is an RSS feed, and how does it work?
- Why should I be bothering to learn about this?
- What is an example of an RSS feed in use?
- How can I use feeds to help my productivity?
What is An RSS Feed?
This is perhaps the most difficult bit to explain – the bit that used to make my eyes glaze over – but once you get your head around this then the answers to the other questions will fall naturally into place.
RSS (it actually stands for: Really Simple Syndication – not that this helps much) is a format for blogs and websites to stream current articles from one software or application to another. It is a technical behind-the-scenes means for a site that publishes regular stories, posts, articles and updates to export their latest updates in a manner that can be read by feed enabled tools.
Why do I need to know about this?
Not every single website or blog has a feed, but you’ll find that most do. If, for example, you have a WordPress based website or blog then you will automatically be able to use it’s RSS feed to publish, share and circulate your latest posts. RSS enables you to do more with your content.
You can also use RSS to receive others’ content, for reading or research or learning, without the need to ‘subscribe’ to their site. You can opt to use an RSS reading application to automatically receive RSS feeds from sites you wish to follow, without having to give out your precious email address. The obvious benefits to you being: less inbox clutter, and fewer people misusing your email address to try to sell you stuff. When you no longer want to hear from them you don’t ‘unsubscribe’ and hope that they remove you from their list – you simply delete the feed from your reader. One click and they’re gone.
My recommendation for an easy to use feed reader is Feedly – it is free to sign up and use on a personal or small business level, and reasonably priced if you find you need that extra bit of functionality. Simply type in a website address and Feedly will find their stream, add this to your incoming feeds, and also categorise feeds by subject matter if you wish. You can also set up a one-click auto-share to your favourite service, be it a social channel or bookmarking app, online storage or productivity tool. Alternatives to Feedly are InoReader, Flipboard, Reeder, Tiny Tiny RSS, The Old Reader – there are literally hundreds of them, so you may want to try a few before you find the one you like best.
OK, give me an example of RSS in practice.
Do you have an application on your tablet or smartphone that you use to see what’s happening in the news? (BBC News, Sky News etc.) Or an app for a newspaper or magazine? These are great examples of RSS feeds in action.
Take your news app – the news channel are constantly writing and updating current news stories and posting them to their website. Their mobile app is simply a pre-programmed internet ‘portal’ that receives their website RSS feed (and only their feed) and presents it in an easy to read format – and when the news story is updated, the information you read through the app is updated.
We are all looking for ways to work smarter rather than harder – and the current trend is to make use of integrations between softwares and applications so that they work together rather than in isolation.
Services such as IFTTT and Zapier are great examples of the integration culture, bringing automation to your daily activities by offering the ability for various applications to communicate and trigger a new event whenever a predefined circumstance occurs. IFTTT in particular makes use of RSS feeds in some of the integrations on offer, although not all their processes are based on this technology. In most cases you wouldn’t necessarily know which are using them and which are not – and nor do you need to or, in the normal course of things, even care.
How can I use RSS to boost my productivity?
Well, rather than bore you with a wordy explanation, here is a workflow that I use everyday for this blog:
To learn more about the services used in this workflow, visit the application websites by clicking on the logos below: