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What is RSS anyway?

Rich Site Summary, also dubbed “Really Simple Syndication,” is web-enabled software that helps you cut to the heart of a website’s content, bypassing ads, flashy design, and other promotional items that you may not care about. Using RSS is also a time and bandwidth saver, since every website you visit downloads a multitude of data and resources just to appear on your screen.

How does it work?
Since it is technically a raw data source of content, an RSS feed must be digested by one of many online “readers” like Google Currents or Flipboard on the iPad. (Think of the reader as an Amazon Kindle, and your RSS feeds as the ebooks you use to populate your library.) There is a wide range of readers available and in various formats — apps, programs, plugins, and sites. You probably already have a few installed without knowing it, as most modern browsers have RSS readers built in. Most RSS readers let you compile multiple feeds into one easily read list of content sorted chronologically, but you can also group feeds into categories to keep things organized.

“Subscribing” to the Putnam Perspectives blog feed in Firefox’s reader looks like this:

Some readers put more emphasis on design considerations. Here’s the same feed presented in the beautiful Google Currents app for iPad:

Directions for subscribing to content will change based on the reader, but the basic idea is to take the URL where the feed lives — putnamperspectives.com/feed for the Putnam Perspectives blog, for example — and paste it into the reader wherever applicable. Many sites and blogs make it even easier by prompting you to add an RSS feed to a suggested reader, such as Google reader, which can store and organize multiple feeds on a single page.

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