Blogs, Feeds, RSS and Syndication - Huh?

Let’s start with blogs…

A blog is simply another web site. It is, however, a distinct kind of web site. Blog is short for weblog and it is a sort of online journal. A blog is made up of a series of articles or journal entries, known as posts. Each time a new post is made it goes at the top of the list and old posts are archived. Therefore, a blog is a web site that is arranged chronologically. Most blogs will also have an archive that lets you find and read old posts.

The best way to understand blogging is to have a look at some blogs. You are reading the Sutherland Shire Libraries blog now but you might like to have a look at a few others:
CrunchGear – what’s new in gadgets and technology.
Strange New Products – just what it says.

Anyone can have a blog. There are personal blogs, news blogs, company blogs and more. There are free blogging tools available on the web such as Blogger, Typepad and WordPress and you don’t necessarily even need any technical know-how to create or publish one.

That’s all fine but web sites have been publishing new articles for ages – what makes blogs so special? Well, blog software generally allows the author to produce an XML Feed in addition to the blog itself. Almost all blogs provide you with a link to their feed.

So what is a Feed…

A feed is a coded view of the blog. Feeds are not exclusive to blogs (have a look at the ABC’s list of feeds) but most blogs have one. Have you ever noticed the rss feed icon or rss feed icon icons on a web site? These little images indicate that the web site publishes a feed. Have a look at the top right of this page – can you see the feed icon?

Feed code Screen ShotIf you’ve ever clicked on one of these you’ll know that the resulting page often contains impenetrable looking code like this. You probably thought to yourself, ‘too much work, I don’t want to know’. That’s OK. Feeds aren’t meant to be read by people they’re for computers to read. The feed is written in a code called RSS, which stands for Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication depending on who you talk to.

They are coded so that computers can make sense of the blog. Since the feed code is machine readable other web sites or software programs can understand the feed if you tell them where to find it. The feed allows the content from a blog to be syndicated or aggregated, that is, re-used somewhere else. The important thing for us is the URL or address of the feed, which often looks something like

So why should I care about feeds?

Let’s say you have a dozen web sites that you like to read consistently. Have you got time to visit each of those sites daily to check whether there is any new content? Neither have I, I’ve got better things to do with my time. There are, however, web sites and software called aggregators that can bring the content from all of your chosen sites together in one place – and they automatically retrieve the new information when the sites you are watching are updated.

Sounds great! How do I do it?

To listen to music on your computer you need a player such as Windows Media Player. Similarly, to subscribe to web feeds you need an aggregator. The good news is that there are many aggregators available for free.

You may even already have one. Do you have a Yahoo mail or Gmail account? If you do you already have an aggregator. Both Google and Yahoo create a personalized home page account when you sign up for their email services. You can add feeds to your personalised home page so that the headlines from your favourite blogs or web sites appear whenever you visit. Maybe you use Firefox? The live bookmarks feature allows you to view headlines from your favourite feeds right in the browser.

Alternatively, you might prefer to have a stand alone news aggregator. You can get aggregators that you install on your computer such as Feedreader or FeedDemon but most people are now using online aggregators such as Bloglines, Newsgator or Netvibes.

Once you have settled on an aggregator you need to add feeds from your favourite sites. When you discover a site you want to subscribe to right-click on the feed icon (shown above) and select Copy Shortcut (Firefox users select Copy Link Location). Go to your aggregator and select Add Content (or something similar) and paste the feed URL into the text box. When you have submitted the feed address your reader should display the headlines from the feed. Whenever new content is added to the site the aggregator will be automatically updated. It doesn’t matter how many web sites you subscribe to – 5 or 500 – you only have to visit your aggregator to see the current content.