IS Department


What are Feeds? How to use them?

Posted in Uncategorized by Brian Russell on October 24, 2006

Feeds are starting to show up on just about every site that produces content in some way.  Feeds are a way for a user to subscribe to the information the site produces so that the user doesn’t have to visit each site and look for updates.  When the site updates, the feed updates.  The user needs to use some kind of aggregator application on thier computer that they can plug in these feeds.  The aggregator application then continuously looks at the feeds and notifies the user when they change (new content was added, or exisiting content changes).  This makes the aggregator a one stop place to look at the content from many different sites.

So, with this blog for example, if you were subscribed to the site through the feed that is provided, your aggragator application would notify you when I post this article.  This means you wouldn’t have to go out of your way every now and then to come back to this site just to see if there is new content posted, it would come to you.  Here is my current list of feeds I subscribe to.  Imagine if I had to visit each of these sites individually just to see if something changed:

 Feed List

SharpReader is one aggregator that I have used.  It is pretty easy to use, you can set it to run during startup, and allows some control as to how often it goes and looks at the feeds you have subscribed to.  Here is how to subscribe to a feed with SharpReader:

  • First navigate to the site that provides a feed you want to subscribe to (use any old brower for this). 
  • Once you find the feed link on the page, right click on it and select Copy Shortcut from the menu. 
  • Take that copied URL and paste it into the SharpReader address bar. 
  • Hit enter and the feed will be loaded up and you will see the posts within the feed. 
  • You then just need to click the Subscribe button to put it into your subscribed feed list.

IE7 and Firefox also have built in feed tools which I have not used yet, but might be worth exploring.

One thing you might find confusing about feeds is that there are different types of feeds.  RSS and ATOM are two different types.  Each of those types have different versions (RSS 1.0, RSS 2.0, etc…).  Most aggregators handle both types and the latest versions, so there shouldn’t be any issues in subscribing to them.  If you do run into problems where your aggregator says the feed isn’t valid, you might want to check what type of feed is being supplied and whether or not your aggregator can handle that version.  If it does, let the feed author know about the invalid feed.  I have run into a few feeds that were not valid only because it was a mistake on the authors side of things.

Happy feed reading.

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