Geek Chic of the Week: RSS, Part I

This is Part I of a three-part series. This first post will cover why you should care about RSS and how to use basic RSS readers. The second post will cover more sophisticated RSS aggregators. The third post will go more into the mechanics and history of RSS for those who are really interested in knowing more.

You may, or may not, have been hearing about RSS over the past few months (or years). It continues to gain in popularity as subscribing to RSS feeds gets easier and becomes more integrated into tools like My Yahoo! and iGoogle, but many people still have no idea what it is (so don’t feel bad if you’re one of them). Some people are using it and don’t even know it! But, as we all attempt to manage the massive amounts of information out there for us to consume, and as RSS moves out of its geeky beginnings and into the mainstream, it’s an important technology to use and understand. So, instead of starting at the potentially boring beginning with a precise definition and history of RSS, let’s start at the more practical and interesting end with, “Why should I give a crap?” and “How might this make my life easier?”

The simple answer to both questions is that RSS allows you to keep tabs on many web sites without having to visit each one of those sites to see what’s new. A site sends out its latest headlines and content (the “feed”) and by subscribing to that feed, you can quickly see if the site has posted new information, and skim through it to decide what you want to dive into and what you want to skip over. Saves time and energy and allows you to check in at your leisure (as opposed to subscribing to an email that shows up in your Inbox whenever the site feels like sending it, instead of when you want to read it). Nice, eh?

There are a couple of ways to take advantage of RSS. In this first post, I’ll cover the simplest: a web-based RSS aggregator from a search engine like Yahoo! (My Yahoo!) or Google (iGoogle). These sites offers a somewhat half-assed way to read RSS feeds, but are an excellent place to start and can be great as a supplement to another reader (but more on that in Part II). For now, let’s dig into what Yahoo! and Google offer.

Here’s a screenshot of my iGoogle page: