Many websites have links labeled "XML" or "RSS" or "Atom". All of these are ways of saying that you can find out about updates to that site without having to visit the site in your web browser.
This feature is referred to as "syndication" or "aggregation". Sometimes it's just called subscribing. And these days, instead of one of these words, lots of sites will use a little orange button. Feed It's also common to see buttons that say "RSS" or "XML".
All these links and buttons mean the same thing: The site you're viewing has a feed available.
What Do I Need?
Just like when you want to watch a video clip or listen to music on the web, you need a "player" of some kind to subscribe to feeds. Good news: Most of these tools are free, and there are many to choose from, so you can find the one that best suits you.
The "player" for a feed is called a feed reader. This tool lets you subscribe to any feeds you want, checks automatically to see when they're updated, and then displays the updates for you as they arrive.
Feed readers can run on your computer or you can sign up to use a feed-reader that runs on the web. If you use one of the web-based readers, you can access your feeds from anywhere you go, just by signing into the website that manages your feeds. If you use a feed reading program that installs on your computer, your feeds can be stored for you even if you're not connected to the Internet.
What Feed Reader Should I Use?
Here's a list some of the most popular tools.
On the web: If you don't want to have to install a program, many people choose My Yahoo!, Google Personalized Homepage, My MSN, or My AOL to read feeds right within the home page that their browser starts in. Other providers of web-based feed readers include Rojo. Bloglines, Attensa Online, or NewsGator Online.
On your computer: If you want a feed reading program that runs on your own computer, there are a few options. Anyone using the Mozilla Firefox web browser has support for feeds built-in, and Microsoft Windows users have support for feeds in Internet Explorer 7. Apple Macintosh users can also use the built-in support for feeds in the Safari web browser.
If you want a separate program to read feeds, you can use FeedDemon or NewsGator for Microsoft Outlook or Attensa for Outlook if you're on Microsoft Windows. Both tools let you switch between these programs and the web-based reader at any time. If you're on a Macintosh running OS X, the most popular feed reader is NetNewsWire, which can also connect to the web-based services.
Subscribing to Feeds
Once you've got a tool to read feeds, you'll want to find some feeds worth reading. Many of the tools listed above provide some built-in feeds to get you started. Then, as you visit other sites on the web, you can keep your eyes open for links that say XML or RSS or Syndication, or for that orange button, and add the feeds you find interesting.
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