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While not as popular as it once was, RSS is still used by many people to stay informed about news, podcasts, and other information online. RSS — which stands for "Really Simple Syndication" — is a protocol that provides a standard method for websites to publish updates that anyone can see by displaying them in a program or website called an RSS reader. 

What is an RSS feed?

Fundamentally, RSS is simply an XML text file. It's created by a website publisher and contains a running list of articles or other content published by the site, with the newest entry always at the top of the list. Each entry contains details like the article's title, description, and link to the content.

RSS feeds are published and updated in real time, so if you subscribe to a site's RSS feed, you'll always have access to the newest published content. That can be handy for news sites and podcasts that are frequently updated. 

What to know about RSS readers

Because an RSS feed is a text file that contains a stream of article descriptions and links, it isn't designed to be read or used directly by you. Instead, users rely on a program called an RSS reader. This is a simple program that reads the RSS feed and displays the list of articles in a way that makes them easy to browse.

Many RSS readers can display a single unified view that aggregates content from all the websites you have subscribed to in chronological order — sort of like the way a unified inbox shows email from multiple accounts at once — or you can browse each website individually. 

RSS readers are used to aggregate news. Users can subscribe to RSS feeds from the websites and sources of interest to them, and use an RSS reader to scan headlines and read articles from a variety of sources. This is less common today because many people tend to use social media to aggregate news, though it's less efficient because social media platforms use proprietary algorithms to determine what headlines users see. With RSS, you see everything that's published by the sources you subscribe to. 

How to use an RSS feed 

There are quite a number of RSS reader programs to choose from. Some are free, while others are paid programs that you need to purchase or subscribe to. 

To use RSS, you need to perform these steps: 

  1. Get an RSS reader. Some of the most popular RSS readers include Feedreader, Feedly, and The Old Reader. Create an account so you're ready to subscribe to some RSS feeds. 
  2. Find the link to an RSS feed. You'll need to know the URL to the RSS feed for the website you want to subscribe to. Some websites place an RSS link on their homepage — look for it at the very top (in the header of the site) or at the bottom in the footer. It will look like waves, similar to a Wi-Fi icon. Click it and copy the URL. Finding RSS icons on the homepage of a website is less common than it used to be, so if you don't see it, you can perform a web search, such as "Insider RSS feed." Find the page and copy the link.
  3. Some websites display an RSS icon that gives you direct access to the RSS feed URL. Dave Johnson/Insider
  4. Subscribe to the RSS feed. In the RSS reader program, find the link to add a new feed and enter the URL of the feed. After you add it, you should immediately see a list of articles. You can now browse and click the article you want to read. 
  5. Subscribe to more feeds. You can continue adding RSS feeds to your RSS reader until you're aggregating all the websites you want to keep track of. 

An RSS reader is a great tool for making sure you see a broad range of news from multiple sources