For quite some time now, countless sites have shared updates by providing a URL that updates with machine-readable details any time the site publishes new content. Generally speaking, while the formats have varied, we’ve collectively referred to these as “Feeds.” You might also hear folks refer to these as RSS feeds, Atom feeds, or JSON feeds. While these are technically different implementations, they should all ‘just work’ in most feed readers.

Feeds used to be widespread on almost every site that was updated regularly. Unfortunately, with the rise of social media and Google shutting down Reader, feeds became less commong as fewer sites bothered publishing feeds. Where almost every blog used to offer a feed of some sort, it’s just as frequent to find blogs withou feeds these days.

We can all make sure to offer feeds for our site and even ensure the feed links are easily findable and add auto-discovery tags so anyone can copy a URL and drop that into their feed reader to automatically find the relevant URL to subscribe to.

Feeds never really left. They just become less visible. If you listen to podcasts, you may not realize it, but Podcast apps consume feeds to let you know when new episodes are published. Standard websites and articles can do the same thing!

Here’s some options for subsribing to the feeds on this site:

  1. Use your feed reader’s autodiscovery with any url from the site.
  2. The main feed includes both articles and links.
  3. The posts feed includes just the longer articles.
  4. The links feed includes just the links.

Want to learn more about feeds?

Imagine finding a web site you like and being able to automatically receive updates for that site without giving the site your email address? You end up with a more peaceful inbox and more control of the sources you can get news for.

To get started, all you need is a feed reader and a website you like that offers RSS.

A feed reader? Think of a feed reader as a specialized web browser that automatically checks a site’s feed and lets you know if the site has published any new content. Then, depending on the site, you can often read the entire post right in you feed reader without even having to visit the site. Or you can follow a link to see the new stuff on the webstte.

Some websites, especially if they’re ad-supported, will only provide partial content in the feed so that you haave to visit the site and see ads, but you at least get a preview so you can decide if it’s worth it.

Choose a Feed Reader

You can use a web-based feed reader like Feedbin or you can use a dedicated application on your computer or mobile device. Or you can use both and choose applications on your devices that can sync with the web-based tool. Then you can read news on either device and have the read status automatically sync between all of your devices.

Some feed readers will even provide you with throwaway email addresses so you can subscribe to standard email newsletters. Then when they receive a newsletter, they’ll treat it like any old post from an RSS feed and display it in your feed reader.

Subscribe to Feeds

Once your feed reader is ready to go, you can start subsribing to feeds with wild abandon—and unsubscribe if you don’t love them. Some sites make it easier than others, and many others don’t offer feeds at all.

Ideally, sites add a little bit of code under-the-hood so that feed readers can automatically discover all of the available feeds. In that case, you can copy and paste a URL from your web browser to your feed reader. Then your feed reader presents the available feed options to you, and you choose which feeds you want.

So for my site, you could copy, go to add a new feed in your reader, paste the URL in and choose from any of the feeds I’ve set up. If all goes well, the options you see should more or less match these three options:

Manual Discovery

Not all sites have set up their feeds with autodiscovery.11If you run a site with RSS feeds but haven’t added autodiscovery support, definitely look into it. It’s relatively straightforward to add and makes it much easier for visitors to subscribe to your feeds. In those cases, you’ll need to look around a bit for the feed links. In some cases, they’ll use a little orange icon like at the top of the page here, or they may explicitly label their feeds or provide a dedicated list of feed options.

In that case, it still works the same. You copy the feed URL and add it to your feed reader and you’re on your way to news-reading bliss.