A Gentle Intro to RSS

Many RSS devotees give off a bit of smugness that can intimidate non–techies and those new to RSS. So here’s my non-technical guide to RSS feeds and how to add one to your own blog.

What is RSS?

RSS stands for really simple syndication, and that’s precisely what it does. RSS turns content into a feed. An RSS reader then checks feeds to see if there is new content.

Let’s say I subscribe to 100 RSS feeds: a mix of blogs, newspapers, YouTube channels and forums. Each day I open up my RSS reader to see all of the new content from each of these feeds in one place. It’s a morning newspaper for the internet.

This might seem overwhelming, but it’s not. Personal blogs often have new posts once a month or so. News outlets have feeds with only the major stories of the day or week. It’s a manageable way to follow content from a lot of different sources without having to check dozens a websites a day.

The infrastructure to distribute podcasts is none other than RSS. So if you’ve been listening to podcasts, you’ve already been using an RSS reader.

Don’t worry about the different terms like atom, RSS and XML. For all practical purposes they are the same with some minor technical differences behind the scenes.

RSS vs. social media

Some of the best things from the old internet are still preserved with RSS. Content is shared via simple files, which means the slow-loading, ad-stuffed and tracker-filled clutter of the modern internet are mostly absent.

There aren’t any algorithms. RSS readers are wonderfully dumb. There’s no AI sifting through content to find whatever will outrage you the most. You just get new posts and mark them as read. It’s a calmer world.

With RSS I follow lots of people writing about normal people things. People blog about getting back into playing the drums, a fun book they just read, a tough problem they’re working through and the other day to day things of life. This type of content tends to get buried on social media — it doesn’t get the clicks and sell ads like fear and outrage do.

There’s no FOMO. If I take a week off from my RSS reader, I don’t get any notifications begging me to come back. All of the content is sitting there waiting. I can skim through it at my own pace or mark all as read in one fell swoop. It doesn’t matter and there’s no analytics for anybody else to know either.

Getting an RSS reader

There are plenty of free RSS readers to get started with:

Pick one the free apps or services, see if you like RSS and then you’re set. If you become an RSS power user, there are plenty of paid apps and service to suit every possible need.

My personal app of choice is Reeder. The built-in RSS reader syncs with all of my devices over iCloud.

Finding feeds

Most blogging platforms have RSS built in, thus most blogs have a feed even if the owner has never heard of RSS. Usually the feed address (often /feed.xml or similar) is tucked in with all the social links. Most RSS readers can find feeds if you have the website address.

A lot of publications offer free content via RSS, e.g. the Economist and the New York Times. Searching the internet for “RSS {the name of your favorite publication” usually yields the feed.

Each author’s page on Medium is an RSS feed. Surprisingly, every YouTube channel is also an RSS feed. Drop either one directly into your RSS reeder and it will work.

I’ve built up my feeds over the years. A blog I read links to another blog that looks interesting — it gets added. Randomly find a neat blog post — it gets added. Someone recommends a YouTube channel — it gets added. I really like that I can follow lots of regular, non-famous people that I never would have connected with via social media.

Adding a feed to your blog

It’s almost certain that whatever blogging platform you use supports RSS. If you search around, you’ll find the link to your RSS feed. Put it somewhere prominent!

For the more tech savvy DIY types, add your feeds to your site’s meta data. In the head section of your HTML:

<link type="application/atom+xml" rel="alternate" href="https://derekkedziora.com/feed.xml" title="Derek Kedziora | All Posts" />

Obviously swap out the link and title for your own. You can add as many feeds as you’d like to head section: have an everything feed and give each category its own feed. This makes your feeds more discoverable to RSS readers.

What better way to end this post than with a plug for my own RSS feed.