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