intro to RSS

  1. what is RSS?
  2. how does RSS work?
  3. how to get started
  4. tips for using RSS wisely
  5. how to make a feed for your own site
  6. credits

what is RSS (really simple syndication)?

it's like a social network's news feed, but you can get updates from lots of different sites without making an account on any of them.

or it's like an e-mail newsletter, except you don't have to worry about how safely your e-mail address will be stored, or how hard it'll be to unsubscribe if you decide you want to.

how does RSS work?

an RSS feed is a text file on a website. you can read it with any feed reader software, made by anyone.

give your feed reader the link to each site you want to get updates from, and it'll download the latest posts from them. posts usually show up in reverse chronological order, though some software gives you other options.

then, you can start reading! most software can automatically let you know about new posts from here on out, and it's usually just a push of a button if not.

(note that there's something very similar to RSS called "atom". almost any software will work equally with both, though, so the difference probably won't matter to you.)

how do i get started?

first, you'll need a feed reader. there are lots of options, but here are a few:

then, start adding some feeds! all of the programs above can take a regular link to a website and tell you what feeds it has. in a few weird cases this may not work, though, so here are some tips for finding the RSS feed on a website should you ever need to.

you can follow anyone who's set up a feed for their own website, plus anyone on most blogging sites (like wordpress, write freely, or blogger). some social networks also let you follow folks via RSS--mastodon, youtube, reddit, and tumblr are examples.

if you want ideas of what to follow, here are a few of our favorites:

tips for using RSS wisely

the below is copied word-for-word from the original article. we'll have to really get back into RSS ourselves before saying whether we entirely agree, and whether we have anything to add. they're certainly guidelines worth considering, though.

  1. Beware the hoarder instinct. No algorithm can save you from hoarding feeds "just in case", then being overwhelmed. The only cure is to ruthlessly Marie Kondo that crap--if a feed doesn't consistently enrich your life, cut it.
  2. Some feeds only give you the excerpt of a post, with a link to see the full post at their site. Don't follow those: they break you out of the RSS reading experience, and trick you into losing time on their site. (This is a harsh rule: I used to follow Quanta Magazine's feed, but they switched from full-text to excerpts, so I unsubscribed.)
  3. Don't follow feeds that update more than once a day. Go for daily digests, or better yet, weekly digests.

how to make a feed for your own site

check out this guide to making an RSS feed to get started! the one thing we'd say differently is to use ".xml" as the file extension rather than ".txt", unless your web host doesn't allow you to upload XML files (and neocities does allow XML files).

if you want more detailed, technical information, here's an explanation of the feed format.


this page is adapted from back to the future with RSS! by nicky case. both the original article and this one are public domain/CC0.