October 06, 2007

What is Atom/RSS?

Would you like to keep up to date with the latest content at Blogger Buster? There are a number of ways you can subscribe to receive news of the latest updates to the site, and the main ones used by Blogger Buster readers are the Atom and RSS feeds.

What is Atom/RSS?

Atom and RSS are both a similar technology which was developed to help people receive automatic updates of their favorite websites.

Although there are some differences between the technology of Atom and RSS, they both do essentially the same job: they fetch updated content from your favorite sites in a format you can easily read in a feed reader.

A better alternative to bookmarking.

Before Atom and RSS were invented, web users had to bookmark their favorite sites instead, and return to the bookmarked sites manually to see if anything had been updated. This creates more work for you as the reader, and means you could easily miss new content if you forget to check your bookmarks. Also, it can be complicated trying to keep track of many bookmarked sites at the same time.

Atom and RSS can do all the hard work for you!

If you subscribe to a website's feed, you are asking the website to send you new content, instead of having to fetch this yourself. It's a bit like getting a magazine subscription, but rather than being sent your magazine once a month, you will be sent new website content each time the site is updated. This could be daily, or even more regularly!

So... How can I use Atom/RSS feeds?

You will need a Feed Reader to be able to read Atom and RSS feeds from websites. In their native forms, Atom and RSS feeds are difficult to read and look a little like raw html code. Feed readers translate this into something which you can easily read, which looks a little like a web page which focuses on written content.

Two of the most popular feed readers you could use are Google Reader and Bloglines. Both of these services are free and very easy to use, especially as they both feature detailed help sections.

There are of course many other feed readers available which you can easily using your favorite search engine.

The easiest way to learn how to use a feed reader is to sign up for one of these services, then subscribe to a few feeds. For both of these services, you'll notice that new items will stand out from those you have read, and also that the newest content will feature at the top of the page. This makes it easier for you to know which items you have read.

How can I subscribe to feeds?

There are many places to look feed subscription links, including:

  • Your favorite website
  • Your feed reader's website
  • Your internet browser
Let me explain a little about these subscription links:

On Site Subscriptions

You may have noticed feed icons on your favorite websites; these are often orange icons (which seems to have become the standard color for feed icons), or may also be counters to let you know how many subscribers a site has. On the right are some more examples you may have noticed too.

Usually these feed icons will link directly to the Atom or RSS feed for the site. You can either copy the link location for use in your RSS reader, or may be able to subscribe from the link directly.

Your feed reader's website

Most feed readers will have a search utility to help you find feeds of interest which you can then subscribe to. Google Reader for example allows you to search through literally thousands of blog and news feeds simply by searching for keywords of interest to you!

Browser subscription

Some internet browsers (eg: Firefox) have a built in function to detect and subscribe to website feeds. If your browser detects that the website you are looking at has an Atom or RSS feed available, you will usually see an orange icon to the right of the address bar, like this:

If you were to click on this icon while reading this site, you would be locating the Atom feed for Blogger Buster.

For different browsers, the feed icon in the address bar may look different, or be another color though it should still be easily distinguishable as a feed icon.

If you use your browser to subscribe to a site feed, you may wish to change the default settings so that subscriptions are added to the feed reader of your choice (eg: Google Reader or Bloglines) rather than the default reader built into the browser itself. This is generally done in the settings section of your browser, and may also be chosen when you open the link to a website's feed.

Atom or RSS - which feed should I choose?

Modern feed readers are able to read both Atom and RSS feeds. RSS is the most popular feed format, but by default Blogger published Atom feeds for our blogs. So I decided to publish both the Atom and RSS feeds for Blogger Buster to provide a choice in the subscription type.

Currently most subscribers to Blogger Buster choose the Atom format, but since there really is very little difference in how these feeds function, so the choice is up to you.

If you would like to know a little more about the difference between Atom and RSS feeds, you can read this post.

Would you prefer to receive updates by email instead?

Many sites offer updates by email too. Here at Blogger Buster you can easily subscribe for email updates by using the form near the top of the sidebar. All you need to do is enter your email address and click "Subscribe". A confirmation email will be sent to you to ensure you do wish to receive updates.

It's easy to unsubscribe too!

If ever you decide you don't want to subscribe to a feed, either using your feed reader or by email, it is very easy to unsubscribe:

  • For those using a feed reader

    Simply delete the feed from your feed reader, and you will no longer receive updates from this site.
  • For email subscribers

    Usually you will find an "Unsubscribe" link near the bottom of any emails sent for feed updates. Alternatively this may have been sent in the confirmation email you were sent when you first subscribed for updates. When you click on this link you will be able to remove your address from further updates.

If you are new to the concepts of web feeds, I hope this explanation has been useful to you, and perhaps has persuaded you to experiment with Atom and RSS for yourself. Please feel free to leave your comments and opinions below.

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