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FAQ: How to Use an RSS Reader

What Is an RSS Reader?

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An RSS Reader lets you get an summary of the contents of multiple web pages and blogs. You open the reader in your favorite browser and it automatically fetches the headings from your favorite websites and blogs. You add your list of blogs and websites to the reader. It refreshes every few minutes and shows you new items.

Why Use an RSS Reader?

  • Because it lets you quickly review the updated from dozens of blogs and webpages.
  • It lets you follow blogs that post infrequently. If they post only once a week or once a month, the item shows up in your reader.

Which RSS Readers? And How Much?

There are two main RSS readers: NetVibes and Google Reader (you already knew Google had a reader, didn't you?). Both are free. Just create an account, add your blogs, and it works.

Let's first look at the Google Reader.

How to Use Google Reader

Go to Google Reader and create an account. Here is how my reader looks:

FAQ: How to use Google Reader
Illustration 1: Google's RSS Reader

#1 shows the number of new items (or "not yet viewed" items). There are 100 new items. In the center section, you see a list of those items. It shows the source (e.g., Webanalytics Group), the heading, and the first few words.

#2 at the left shows the items, sorted by categories. I created several categories (News, Personal, Science, etc.) and put the corresponding blogs in each folder.

FAQ: How to use RSS Readers: Selecting a Folder
Illustration 2: Selecting a Folder

In illustration 2, we pick the News folder (#1) with 16 items.

Click on #2 and the reader will show only the new items. If you click All Items, you'll see both new and previously-viewed items.

When you've scanned the headings, click Mark All As Read (#3) and the new items disappear. I really like this: it reduces the clutter.

FAQ: How to use RSS Readers: Selecting an Item for a Closer View
Illustration 3: Selecting an Item for a Closer View

#1 Click on an item and you can see a summary. It shows heading, source, and the first few lines. If you want to read the full item, click its heading to open the web page.

#2 Mark an item by clicking Add Star. This lets you remember items that you may want to recall later. To see your starred items, click Starred Items (at upper left).

FAQ: How to use RSS Readers: Clearing the View
Illustration 4: Clearing the View

#1 When we've finished with the News folder, it shows no more items.

#2 Click Mark All As Read to hide the old items.

FAQ: How to use RSS Readers: Expanded View
Illustration 5: Expanded View

#1 Instead of just text, you can get a view with more details, including images. Click Expanded View.

#2 The entry now shows images (if any) and the first few paragraphs. If you want to read the full item, click its heading.

The NetVibes RSS Reader

Let's look at the NetVibes RSS Reader. The interface has a few different features.

FAQ: How to the Netvibes RSS Reader
Illustration 6: The Netvibes RSS Reader

First of all, it allows widgets (small programs). On my NetVibes reader, I have a Notes tool, a To-Do list, a search box, a weather chart, and my blog.

At the top of the page, there are tabs. Click the Web-Computers tab to see my blogs in that section. You create and name your own tabs. You add whatever you like to your tabs.

FAQ: Tabs in the NetVibes Reader
Illustration 7: Tabs in the Netvibes RSS Reader

Here is the Web-Computers tab. It shows the various blogs that I've added to that section.

#1 shows the new entries for the Facebook blog.

#2 A nice feature of NetVibes is the preview. Hold the mouse over an item and it shows the first few paragraphs. This is better than Google Reader's method.

However, Netvibes doesn't let you hide the previously-viewed items.

Add Subscriptions

In both readers, you add subscriptions to blogs and websites that have RSS feeds. That means the blog has the ability to distribute its content to RSS readers. Look in the URL bar of the website and you'll see a small orange icon RSS Feed Icon. That means the page has an RSS feed. Copy the URL, paste it into your reader's subscription box, and it's been added.

Transfer Blog Lists

Luckily, Google Reader and NetVibes agree on a standard format for subscription lists. You can save your list of blogs as an OMPL file (very easy to do) and then add that OPML list into your NetVibes reader (or the other way around). This lets you try both readers to see which one you like. You can also send your OPML list to others.

Manage Subscriptions in the Google Reader

At the bottom left of the page, there is Manage Subscriptions. Click this to manage your items. You can rename, assign to folders, or delete.

More Tips for Readers

It's not just blogs. You can add pages from Google News and Yahoo News to your reader.

In Google News, you can create your own topic (say, Paris Hilton), add it to your reader, and get updates on her latest activities. You do this for companies, products, people, events, and so on.

Which Blogs?

To try out your reader, add my blog andreas.com blog. It has about 1,500 subscribers and I add stuff every few days.

Your Tips & Comments

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