Friday Feast #46: The World of RSS Explorations

It’s only been since April of this year that I finally added RSS feeds for my weblog and started using news aggregators in earnest, too. Now that I’ve subscribed to some terrific feeds, my use of the Internet and resulting Internet experience has changed dramatically, and in a positive way. Shirley Kaiser at her computer reading RSS feeds. Yes, I actually posed for today’s Feast and tweaked the photo in Photoshop for a painterly effect.

RSS and Quick Scanning

I’ve now seen firsthand that RSS feedreaders, or news aggregators, truly can provide the ability to literally scan hundreds of site updates and headlines in a matter of seconds, letting me know when those sites have updated posts or news. Depending on the software used, the user can be notified by a bubble popping up, a sound, or the headlines appearing in a list with a right click mouseover on the aggregator’s system tray icon, for example.

Those who use RSS feedreaders already know how valuable this culmination of information can be, and perhaps that tidbit can give some insight to those who haven’t experienced RSS feeds yet. That ability is why my Internet experience has changed so dramatically since I’ve been utilizing RSS feeds and news aggregators.

Seeing More, Missing Less

I’ve also seen and read articles of interest that I would have missed without utilizing RSS news aggregators. I may not have even known that I missed them for awhile, of course, but I’m glad to have a tool that tells me about them as they arise.

RSS Feedreader Uses

Here’s a short list of what I use a feedreader for right now:

  • to scan the subjects or headline titles for hundreds of sites in a matter of seconds for all the above,
  • to see when my friends' weblogs have been updated,
  • to scan the latest news headlines and other website news,
  • to scan what’s being discussed at community sites,
  • to search the above for specific information.

That’s just the beginning, though. Part of my morning and evening routine now is to scan my RSS feed subscriptions to see what’s going on. I can then click on links, click on specific feeds to visit the respective sites, and read more.

Presentation Matters

Jeffrey Zeldman expressed that visual presentation does matter, that content read via news aggregators can be different from reading the content around its intended layout and presentation. I agreed with his reasons in a prior post and I still agree. Interestingly, I’ve found that I end up visiting the actual websites more frequently to read more, to see what else a particular weblog has in its archives, to learn more about a particular weblog writer, and to check out their weblog links and resources. It’s clear to me as a designer that I pick up a visual feel for the writer because of his/her/their website that I wouldn’t pick up from the RSS feed content alone. I also prefer to subscribe to RSS feed summaries and not full content feeds, as I prefer to use RSS more for scanning titles and summaries.

RSS feeds and news aggregators have helped me find and read a broader range of weblogs, moblogs, photoblogs, news sites, and more, and the result has been increased exposure to many more interesting websites. For my purposes then, RSS feeds via news aggregators actually enhances my Internet experience rather than replacing viewing content within its webpage presentation.

Titles Matter

I’m quickly seeing how valuable the titles and RSS summaries can be, too. One feed I get uses only the dates for its subjects, which isn’t so helpful to me, and as a result I seldom end up clicking on his feed titles to go to his site. Other subjects are too vague and not helpful. The descriptive and catchy titles grab my attention, and those are the feeds I tend to read more.

Features Matter

I’m also finding features missing in each of the feedreaders I’ve used, so I’m even more anxious for Nick Bradbury’s upcoming FeedDemon. Here are a few things that I want a feedreader to do:

  • Provide a no-brainer approach to subscribing to newsfeeds, such as through auto-discovery and asking if I’d like to subscribe to a website’s feed(s) if I don’t already subscribe.
  • Ability to bookmark specific feed links,
  • Ability to organize feeds by category and topic, such as via a folder directory tree structure,
  • Ability to turn on and off the pings for those organized categories at will. In other words, I’d like to click a button to prevent or activate pinging an entire category’s feeds. There are times when I really don’t want to ping certain feeds for awhile, whether all day or a few days and then resume pings.
  • Ability to click a button to provide a choice of 1. seeing feeds by subject titles only, 2. subject titles and summaries, or 3. subject titles and content for feeds, even if a feed’s approach includes all of its HTML content.
  • Ability to save feeds with a button click. Many feeds understandably include only the most recent 5-15 weblog posts or news headlines, for example. Sometimes I’d like to save a feed for future reference. Bookmarking capability would help, too, as I note above.

Bandwidth Matters

The way RSS is currently set up, subscribers ping a feed’s URL. Various news aggregators' I’ve been trying have a default setting of either every 30 minutes or every 60 minutes with the ability to adjust that time. One of the dilemmas is the amount of bandwidth consumed by folks pinging sites frequently, especially if you multiply that by quite a few subscribers. That’s another reason why I’d like to turn off pinging for entire categories at will. RSS and bandwidth via Google shows up plenty of thoughts and discussions about this. The world of RSS and subscribing to feeds is still so new, and there doesn’t seem to be very consistent support of currently available tags yet.

What Else Can RSS Do?

Besides what I mention above, others talk about what RSS does for them and potential uses for RSS that are possible now or that they’d like to see happen.

  • Enrich your site’s content by adding syndicated content via syndicated RSS feeds.
  • Mike Golding has a new article out, RSS IS the New Black, that provides some points about how RSS can help your business, such as collating and notifying users of new information.
  • Steven M. Cohen’s article RSS For Non-Techie Librarians isn’t limited to just librarians, though. There are plenty of interesting points about possible uses for RSS feeds.
  • Faganfinder’s article about RSS is also helpful: Explanation of RSS, How You Can Use it, and Finding RSS Feeds

I covered many more resources in my Friday Feast #42 post a few weeks ago, The World of RSS Feeds, and Friday Feast #44, Standards, Site Optimization, RSS, and Weblogs.

RSS - a Graphical Chart

Wondering how RSS and RDF are related? Check out’s RSS Family sketch. [hat tip:]


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Categories: Content, Design, Friday Feast, Internet, Syndication, Weblogs

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