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Anyone who spends any time reading news or blogs on the Internet must have seen the term RSS thrown around, or seen this ubiquitous little icon. And yet, many are still unaware what RSS means, what it does, and why you should be taking advantage of it. It’s simple, fun, and can save you a lot of time in your daily dallying on the wonderful world of the Internet.

A Complete Beginner’s Guide to RSS

The following entry was originally written by Faraz Abbasi for Ijtema.net, and has been reproduced on MuslimMatters.org with prior permission from the author. RSS icon image credit: svilen001.

rss_icon.jpgAnyone who spends any time reading news or blogs on the Internet must have seen the term RSS thrown around, or seen this ubiquitous little icon: feed-icon-14x14

And yet, many are still unaware what RSS means, what it does, and why you should be taking advantage of it. It's simple, fun, and can save you a lot of time in your daily dallying on the wonderful world of the Internet.

So what is RSS?

The most common definition of RSS is “Really Simple Syndication”. Essentially, it is a standardized way of publishing frequently updated information. Many websites with frequently updated content will publish “RSS feeds” in order to alert readers whenever new material is posted.

As a standardized format, other applications can read and interpret RSS feeds, to present the data in any number of ways.

“Atom” is another format that serves essentially the same purpose. For the purposes of this article, any use of the term “RSS” should be considered interchangeable with “Atom”.

If you have your own blog running under Blogger, WordPress, Windows Live Spaces, LiveJournal, or any of the other major blogging platforms, your blog most likely will have an RSS feed enabled already.

How do I use an RSS feed?

An RSS feed is an “XML Document”. XML is a standardized notation that can be used to define different types of content; RSS and Atom can be considered as applications of the XML specification. As a standardized specification, anyone can write a program to read RSS feeds, and those programs can present the data in any number of ways. A program that reads an RSS feed can be called an “RSS client”, or a “feed aggregator”.

There are literally thousands of RSS clients out there; an RSS client can be anything from a desktop application, a website, or even a handheld device like the Apple iPod or the Amazon Kindle. When you add an RSS feed to one of these clients, you have “subscribed” to that feed.

Using an RSS client lets you read all the content that is interesting to you in one place, where you want and when you want. For example, the team at ijtema.net uses Google Reader, a popular web-based RSS client, to monitor the hundreds of Muslim blogs that we link to.

What kind of content is available as RSS feeds?

Almost everything! Most news sites, social networking sites, blogs, podcasts, and web forums publish their data as RSS feeds. Many blogs even offer RSS feeds for comments on the site, and many support category-specific RSS feeds. There is certainly no shortage of content out there, and RSS makes it easy to find the content most relevant to you.

How do I know when a site has an RSS feed?

As you navigate the web, you will notice the feed-icon-14x14 icon throughout your surfing. Also, depending on your web browser of choice, an RSS feed icon may be appear within the browser itself to alert you that the site you are visiting includes an RSS feed.

For Mozilla Firefox users, you will notice the RSS icon right in the address bar. The following screenshot is from Firefox 3 on Windows XP, however the behaviour would be the same whether you are using Vista, Mac OSX, or Linux.

Firefox

Internet Explorer 7 has an RSS icon on the toolbar which lights up whenever the site you are visiting includes a feed.

Internet Explorer 7

Other popular web browsers, such as Apple's Safari, Mozilla's Camino, and Flock, all support RSS as well.

How do I subscribe to an RSS feed?

When a webpage contains an RSS feed, there are various ways to subscribe to the feed depending on your browser and RSS client. For this article, we will walk through the process of subscribing to the ijtema.net RSS feed through Google Reader. As the most popular browser that runs on all three major operating systems, we will focus our attention on Mozilla Firefox.

To access Google Reader, you first need to create a Google Account. If you have an @gmail.com address, you already have one. Simply navigate to the Google Reader website, and log in using your gmail username and password. If you don't have a Google Account, follow the on-screen instructions to create one.

Google Reader

Once you have your Google Reader account, there are a few ways to subscribe to ijtema.net. We will first describe the process of subscribing to the feed through Google Reader itself.

Subscribing using Google Reader

Once you have logged in, you will see a bar on the left-hand side which includes the “Add Subscription” function. (If you do not see this bar on the left-hand side, try pressing the u key on your keyboard – this toggles the view to allow you to maximize the space available for your content.)

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When you click on “Add Subscription”, a text box will appear where you can enter the URL (the web address) of the site you are visiting. You can simply copy and paste the text www.ijtema.net from your address bar into the textbox, and then click the “Add” button.

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Once you do this, Google Reader will tell you that you have been successfully subscribed, and show you the most recent posts. If you like, you can add it to a folder to keep your feed reader nice and organized.

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And you're done! Whenever new content is published to ijtema.net, you will see it in your Google Reader shortly after it is published.

Subscribing using Firefox

You can configure the Firefox web browser so that it can automatically add feeds to your Google Reader account as you come across them, simply by clicking on the feed-icon-14x14 icon in the address bar.

Note that these instructions are for Firefox 3; the process is similar for Firefox 2, but I would highly recommend upgrading if you are still using that version.

First, navigate to the webpage you want to subscribe to.

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Then, click on the RSS icon in the address bar. If the site publishes multiple feeds, you will be given a list of them. For this purpose, we will select the “RSS 2.0″ feed, but any of them would be fine.

image

After clicking on the “Subscribe to RSS 2.0″ option, Firefox will display a preview of the content of the feed, and provide you with some options for subscribing to the content.

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Simply select “Google” from the dropdown menu, and click “Subscribe Now”. You can also click the “Always use Google to subscribe to feeds.” checkbox if you want this to be the default behaviour whenever Firefox encounters a site with an RSS feed.

Google offers two ways to subscribe to a feed – you can subscribe through the aforementioned Google Reader, or add it to your iGoogle homepage. When you click “Subscribe Now”, it gives you an option for both:

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Adding it your Google Homepage would give you easy access to the headlines on a page where you can also view your latest e-mail, news, weather, and stock quotes. This illustrates the great flexibility of the RSS specification; it can be used and formatted in an unlimited number of ways, depending on the application and interface.

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So there you go! Now you know the basics of the RSS protocol, and you can now surf the web in style. Many websites even include buttons that further simplify the subscription process, such as the one below, so becoming an RSS pro has never been easier.

Subscribe

Now you know how to subscribe in style, check out the following MuslimMatters feeds and never miss out ever again, inshā'Allāh!

And for those of you who still aren't convinced by the ease of RSS: you can also subscribe to MM content by e-mail.

allah insha'allah

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30 comments

  1. C’mon people… use the feeds… you know it makes sense!

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  2. @iMuslim: hmmmm…I have a feeling I have read this somewhere!

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  3. Yes, ibnKhalil, it credits the original article by Faraz on ijtema… :)

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  4. FF LiveBookmarks are the best. That’s what I use.

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  5. FF LiveBookmarks are the best. That’s what I use.

    Totally agree with ya. Firefox LiveBookmarks rule, and what’s even better is when you set up folders in your main Bookmarks Toolbar. Makes browsing favorites and blogs so easy.

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  6. Which brings me to a point… who still uses internet explorer?? Ok, i know many do. But why? Ever since I started using Firefox, it is painful to go to IE (when forced to do so by some websites). Firefox is faster, less “bugsy”, less resource-intensive, and less susceptible to spyware… If you haven’t made the switch, DO IT NOW! ;)

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    • I agree. IE is the most abominable piece of software out there in the market after Vista. It’s amazing how a multi billion dollar corporation like Microsoft can produce such junk.

      By the way, there is a “view page in IE format” option in FireFox. Using an add-on you can view pages that require you to use IE in FireFox. You’ll have to search for the add-on though.

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  7. Just one more thing to do while not Working

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  8. I still use IE! I’m not fond of Firefox at all…

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  9. Mouse, takes guts to admit that. Its almost as gutsy as admitting to be a Muslim supporter of McCain ;)

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  10. THANK YOU!! total RSS newbie…

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  11. Firefox rules, masha’Allah… I like it even more than Apple’s own Safari! And considering how much of a Macophile I am, that is saying something (and it just proves that I am not completely biased, eh?). Alhamdulillah.

    Mouse… I now see where the boundary of our ‘twinness’ lies! Liking IE over Firefox is just… wrong. So wrong! What can we do to revert you to the straight path of TRUE internet exploring?!

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  12. I am no longer reading this blog since one of it’s writers uses IE.

    May Allah have mercy on us all!

    jk….or am i?

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  13. Contrary to popular belief, FF is very resource-intensive. Just open up your Task Manager in Windows and just check out the amount of memory FF consumes.

    IE is part of the Windows kernel, thus by default its loaded when Windows starts up. Thus its much “lighter” than FF (or at least, that’s the allusion that one should get). Also, ask a pro web developer (I’m not one), but IE is much more standards compliant that FF. Yes, even FF 3.0.

    All that said, I still despise IE and use FF. The reasons: 1) tabs. IE tabs stink, FF tabs rock. 2) Adblock extension in FF.

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    • Eh, Firefox still uses less memory on my PC than Internet Explorer, when I’m actually browsing the net with IE. I will agree, though, that Firefox has strayed from the resource-unintensive program that it used to be. In the day and age of broadband, saying that one browser is any faster than another is like saying that one bullet train is faster than another. It’s possibly true, but the difference is negligible.

      It comes down to personal preference.

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  14. [quote] Also, ask a pro web developer (I’m not one), but IE is much more standards compliant that FF. Yes, even FF 3.0. [/quote]

    Very interesting detail. I’ve always heard the opposite from my friends.

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  15. *Realizes that MM, ruled by tyrannical techy geeks as it is, is not the place to make web confessions*
    :P :D

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  16. “Also, ask a pro web developer (I’m not one), but IE is much more standards compliant that FF. Yes, even FF 3.0.”

    I am related to and work with many professional web developers and Microsoft consultants, and I’ve never heard anyone agree with this statement. In fact, Microsoft itself admits their non-compliance in their browser, promising that IE8 will adhere to W3C standards instead of reproducing old IE bugs to ensure backwards compatibility with websites built in the IE5 – IE7 days. (source)

    Anyway, I specifically avoided criticizing any browser when I wrote this, for fear of sparking a flamewar. A browser is just a tool, not a lifestyle choice, and people should use whatever they feel comfortable with. There is no compulsion in browser choice.

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  17. IE or FF really who cares……………….???????????

    Use whichever one you likle and spare me the details…………………….don’t you have anything more ‘important’ to discuss………….

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  18. you have to make taqleed of only one browser – no mixing and matching. once you pick either ie or firefox, that’s it, you have to stick with it.

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  19. I admit, I mix and match browsers. Work laptop is only allowed to have IE6 and IE7 we’re not allowed to download. On the other hand, whoever it is that’s controlling all this does allow us to download FF2 and FF3.

    Siraaj

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  20. Siraaj, it seems that your work are old-school muqallids. I imagine that they keep reminding you that how could Imam Microsoft have been wrong, and how could a new Shaykh-FF, with no illustrious background, come up with new browser-fiqh that is better than what everyone followed for years?

    You know I used to mix and match a lot, and used to encourage others too. But then I saw that IE was fine too, and switching over was causing too much problems with the rest of the household, who were used to good-ole IE. As for myself, I am more loyal now to FF, and I don’t resort to IE out of convenience, but only when I am forced to, or when it is for common-good to avoid causing confusion.

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  21. Siraaj, it seems that your work are old-school muqallids. I imagine that they keep reminding you that how could Imam Microsoft have been wrong, and how could a new Shaykh-FF, with no illustrious background, come up with new browser-fiqh that is better than what everyone followed for years?

    You know I used to mix and match a lot, and used to encourage others too. But then I saw that IE was fine too, and switching over was causing too much problems with the rest of the household, who were used to good-ole IE. As for myself, I am more loyal now to FF, and I don’t resort to IE out of convenience, but only when I am forced to, or when it is for common-good to avoid causing confusion.

    Yes, but in the end, you’re a muqallid of one browser or another, whether you like to admit it or not ;)

    Siraaj

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  22. Seems like the majority of our readersl used IE over life of blog :(

    Internet Explorer 50.33%
    Firefox 40.63%
    Opera 5.03%
    Safari 3.24%
    Mozilla 0.35%

    Though our readers are a bit “better” than the average Joe (stats here).

    I am also proud to announce that for the first time ever, monthly hits using firefox exceeded IE for June (46.5% vs 45.8%), almost dead-heat. Keep at it folks… lets make MM even more FX-loving! Love the bidah, immerse in it!

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  23. “Internet Explorer 50.33%”

    yayni…so many browser deviants.

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  24. Regardless if you’re a muqallid to a browser or not, we cannot be fanatical ( with our browser choice. We’re in agreement on that.
    Also keep in mind, there is some flexibility in the realm of browsers, but there is no flexibility in the OPERATING SYSTEM of a muslim. Just because a certain deviant operating system happens to be “popular” among the masses, doesn’t it mean it’s the correct operating system.
    At the same time, however, we respect and cooperate with muslims whose operating system choice is still closest to ours. We should leave debates about operating systems to the operating system specialists.

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  25. Salam Alykom MM brothers and sisters,

    I used to see the RSS small icon everywhere but i didnt like the programs that aggregate this feature.

    Yesterday, I knew about ” Google Reader”. There are basically two good points that are overwhelming for me:

    (1)- All what I want is aggregated in one place– Saving time, effort, and what not! PLus “Google Reader” is so neat !.

    (2)- Most importantly, I dont need to have my PC with me to view my Newsfeed. You can access Google reader from anywhere since it is stored on the web!.

    That’s all, I feel like 80 % of my internet experience were compressed in a 3 minute review of my google reader. BREATH TAKING for me.

    I’ve subscribed to MM and Masha’ Allah Keep it up.

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