What are RSS news feeds?

RSS stands for Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication. They both mean the same thing, so don’t let that confuse you. An RSS is something a website (or blog) offers to readers to provide a “news feed” for their information. It’s available for everyone to add to their own “news reader” for free and is displayed on your desktop or in your web browser.

It works almost like a stock ticker, providing exactly the information you’ve “subscribed” to anonymously, eliminating the need to go out and check your favorite outlets for new information, because they’ve already been delivered to your computer.

Who needs RSS?

Well, everyone needs it. It is much more efficient than going to look for it or receiving endless email newsletters. Having paper delivered to your house makes more sense than driving to the store every day, doesn’t it? Along the same lines, let’s say you only want the latest news on certain topics, and you routinely visit various websites to see what’s new. Using RSS, those individual websites will deliver that news right to your desktop, suitable for reading, clicking, printing or ignoring.

How can you use RSS?

It seems that there is no single definitive answer, because there are many ways to use it. I’ll tell you about the easiest way to get RSS feeds that I know of, but it’s by no means the only way. That’s it; on the home page of your web browser.

First, you need an RSS feed reader (also known as an “aggregator”). However, the good news is that you may already have one. Since millions of people have Yahoo, MSN, Hotmail, or Google accounts, I’ll walk you through adding a news feed to your MSN home page. Go to my.msn.com and sign in. If you don’t have a Hotmail account yet, go ahead and create one. If you prefer, you can go to my.yahoo.com and do the same) It only takes a minute to get a new account.

After you sign in to My MSN, you’ll see a wide variety of news, weather, sports, announcements, stock quotes, local information, and more. Think of this as your canvas, and you can organize or delete information as you see fit. Each of these sections you see can be easily moved or deleted. To move them, simply click and drag from the top right of each theme area. To remove them, click the minus sign (-) at the top left of the subject area. Feel free to remove them all, as you can always add them back later.

Now go to the top left of the screen, just above the “Welcome” area, you will see “Add Content” below your name. When you go there, you will get four options (tabs) to add content. The default tab that appears is “Search”. and from here you have four options and each one is clearly defined. If you know the exact web address (URL) of a company’s newsfeed, you can enter it right here. The other three tabs are also worth exploring as they allow you to browse by company names and topics. Then just click a box for anything you want.

After you sign in to My Yahoo, you’ll notice that there are already several Reuters news feeds listed there, with “Top Stories”, “World News”, “Politics” and “Business”. Above those stories, you’ll see a large yellow box in the center that explains how you can “Add Content.” Click the “add content” link and a search box will appear allowing you to “find content” on a given topic. Type in a search phrase and you’ll be presented with search results that have an “Add” button next to them. Hit the “Add” button next to the ones you want and then hit the “Done” button at the top right, and you’re done. You just added that RSS news feed to your My Yahoo page. Scroll down the My Yahoo home page and you’ll see the news headlines you’ve added to the bottom of your list. To rearrange the order of your news feeds, simply hit the little “edit” button at the top right of each news section. To remove a news feed, simply press X as you would to close any window.

Customizing your own news feeds

Now suppose you don’t need to “find” a news source on a topic, because you already know you want to add a particular one. Well that’s easy too. All you have to do is identify what the “RSS Feed URL” is for the information you want to add. Most blogs or news organizations now show you these on their websites.

Look for a small orange box on the website that says XML or the words “RSS Feed” or “News feed” and click on it. For large organizations, like CNN, for example, you’ll be brought to a page with a good set of instructions and a full list of RSS news feed URLs that you can manually copy and paste into your news reader.

Sometimes, though, you’ll be taken to a page that looks like garbled code. Don’t let that scare you like it did me the first time I saw it! When that happens, you’re actually viewing the feed itself directly, and all you have to do is copy and paste what’s in your web browser’s address bar, directly into your newsreader. That’s called “knowing the specific URL of the feed” on MSN and “”Add RSS by URL” on Yahoo.

In My Yahoo, to manually add a news feed, go to the “add content” area and choose the link to the right of the Search button that says “Add RSS by URL.” Once you paste your URL into that window and hit “add”, the news headlines should appear there. If not, you may have mistyped the URL or added a space at the end. Then simply hit the “Add to My Yahoo” button and voila! On MSN, it will paste the news feed URL directly into the search box and then check the box when it displays the result.

Delivering exactly what you want and only when you want it is how the internet is supposed to work. Things are only getting better.

While researching this article, I noticed that My Yahoo seems to have trouble adding certain manual URLs. Oh good. Nothing is perfect.

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