AS promised here is my look at RSS feeds, or what happens when you click on those small orange buttons you've most probably seen sprouting from all the websites you read.
I am not going to go into the techie side of things, just show you how to use RSS to help you read websites quickly, as well as offer some tips on using them for article ideas for your website.
In internet days of old, a few years ago, to stay in touch with website updates you had to pop it in your favourites and keep heading back to see if anything had changed, unsurprisingly people soon tired of this.
Enter RSS feeds, which operate just like a magazine landing on your doormat to tell you there are new things to read, but instead a notification arrives in front of you highlighting a new article or two and unlike a magazine subscription nearly all feeds are provided free by websites.
So how do you read these notifications? Well you need something called a Feed Reader, again the majority of these are free, with two of the most popular being Google Reader and Bloglines.
Registering with either service takes two minutes and when you are on a website that you enjoy, and which offers an RSS feed, right click on the orange button, copy the link and add it to your reader.
Within your reader you will usually see a link saying something like 'Add' or 'Add subscription' they just provide you with a simple entry field where you can paste the link you've copied.
Then instead of saving all your websites in your favourites, you can save either Google Reader or Bloglines in there instead and with one click you can see which websites have been updated.
Both services let you integrate them into your website browser so you can receive automatic notifications of updates, and some browsers let you set your chosen Feed Reader as the default so that if you left click on an RSS feed icon it automatically sends you through to subscribe to it.
It is worth noting that both Internet Explorer (IE) and Firefox have there own RSS feed readers built into the browser, and whilst they might not be suited to someone who wants to watch a large number of feeds, if you wanted to follow a dozen or so sites they are simple to set up (see below for IE).
Once you have started subscribing to a few RSS feeds I am sure you will being to see the potential they offer for someone who is keen to write new articles and offer interesting insights into living in France.
Here are a few tips and tricks:
- Many bigger websites offer RSS feeds for individual sections, so instead of having to read through all the sport and business headlines, subscribing to the European news or holiday and leisure section will reduce the time it takes to spot an interesting story.
- RSS feeds for search results are a real help as you can decide on the exact phrase to follow, so it could be a city name or region, and when something is written featuring the words you are notified. The BBC news and sport search pages offer this facility, but so does the Google Blog Search engine and it follows many websites, both professional and amateur and can provide some very interesting discoveries.
- Following del.icio.us tags via RSS is another way of tracking down interesting websites, so for example if people tag sites with the phrase Dordogne and you want to follow updates then at the bottom of the page you will see a small orange RSS button that you can add to your Feed Reader.
- And the same applies to Flickr images, say you are interested in seeing what people discover and photograph in Brittany, again by subscribing to that tag's RSS feed you will be able to see updates quickly and easily.
- Scan stories fast by just displaying headlines, most Feed Readers will provide the opening paragraph or the whole story and you will begin to wonder how much time you are actually saving. But choosing to display just the headlines can let you browse many in a few seconds.
From a marketing and promotion perspective you can use feeds to see what appeals to people, including the websites they save to del.icio.us and the places they visit via Flickr, these findings can then be fed into your own website so if you are lacking pages about tourist attractions then you can write something up knowing what appeals to visitors.
RSS feeds are a great time saver, especially if you are keen to write stories for your site as following them will spark ideas, as a starter for those using Internet Explorer here's how to get going in just three steps:
1. When on a page with an RSS feed you will see the small orange RSS logo at top right has a little sparkle glow on the corner
2. Click the button and on the resulting page click the Subscribe to the Feed link that features a star with a green cross and confirm the name
3. Then click on the gold star to the left of your browser and then the Feeds button and you'll see the sites you've subscribed to, new updates will be bold
I hope this has helped people see the benefits of using RSS feeds, and if you want one to start with here is This French Life's feed.
Part 1: First steps in starting a blog
Part 2: What to look for in a blogging service
Part 3: The key elements of a blog
Part 4: Sources for article ideas for your blog
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