Those funny orange icons: The RSS Tutorial
A few people have asked me what those orange little broadcast icon thingies on the top right of this site are. And since I am an interaction designer by trade, I feel that I should explain them to you, so that you can make the most out of your web experience.
So what are the icons?
Those orange icons represent my RSS feed. Depending on who you ask, RSS stands for different things. But since this is my blog, I say it stands for Really Simple Syndication. You might also see other icons that represent an RSS feed that look like these:
But not on my site. Here you just get the little orange broadcast icon like this one:
It is succinct, and the most visually appealing of all the icons that represent an RSS feed.
The truth of the matter is that they are all very similar, and basically all represent "Hey, if you click me, you're going to subscribe to this site's RSS feed. Sweet!"
What does RSS do?
RSS is useful for several things. What RSS does for bloggers, news outlets, and other folks and organizations that publish content to the web is allow a very simple way to syndicate the things that they publish.
Why would they want to syndicate their stuff? The same reason radio announcers like Howard Stern or Rush Limbaugh syndicate their radio program to stations all over the country: so that more people can easily hear what they have to say. Well, I guess Howard Stern no longer syndicates his show since he moved to Sirius, but you catch my drift.
How can I use RSS to read blogs, news, etc.?
If you see that list of bike bloggers on my right hand column, I read them everyday, but I never actually go to those web sites. I subscribed to those sites' RSS feeds, and I use my RSS reader to read them. My RSS reader is really similar to an email application like Outlook, but it pulls down RSS feeds from the internet instead of email. This makes my life a bunch easier, because all that interesting (or not-so-interesting) content comes to me, and I don't have to do anything to get it once I subscribe! Here are some screenshots of the RSS reader I use for my Mac.
What RSS readers are out there for me to try?
As you might guess, there are quite a few companies built around providing products and services for RSS consumption and production. I do all my work and play on an Apple Powerbook, and I use NetNewsWire. For PC users, I would recommend giving FeedDemon a try. Or if you are inclined to use free web-based products, NewsGator is a good way read and manage your RSS subscriptions online. It also synchs reasonably well with the aforementioned desktop-based products. The last one I should mention that you can use is My Yahoo!. If you don't want to try any of these, you can go here to see a much larger selection from which to choose.
I hope that this little tutorial will enhance your internet experience. RSS is a super time saver for the daily browsing that you might currently do. It also can lead to information obesity if you aren't careful - because it is so easy to use! And we all know that information obesity leads to less cycling.
RSS is as easy as email, and ten times as fast as bothering to go to all those web sites everyday. Happy RSS'ing!
...and be sure to subscribe to Chico Gino!