I had been wanting to do this “How-to” and “about feeds” post for quite sometime now. I wanted to do it coz I am tired of explaining each person separately (each of those whom I suggested/forced to start a blog or each of those friends who find it difficult or forget to visit my site).

I came across two useful links: this quick start guide on bloglines and By Chetan
Extract:

If you’re new to Feed subscription

You’re familiar with e-mail, right? You read it as you receive it. Well, feeds are similar in analogy. For receiving and reading your email, you’d either need a software client (like Outlook Express, Outlook, Eudora or others) or a service (such as Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail, Gmail or others). Similarly, for reading site feeds, you’ll need a feed software (like FeedReader, Greatnews, FeedDemon, NetNewsWire, Newsgator or Sage extension for Firefox) or a service (such as Bloglines, My Yahoo!, Newsgator Online, Newsburst or Kinja online).

All these software (or services) will have an option to add new feed. Click on it (or select), cut and paste the feed link from the above list and your software or service will query the site for new posts and sync it in your client. So, actually you’re letting your software or service pull the latest posts, news from websites for you. Simple, eh?

If you read a lot of websites in the conventional way, i.e., via a web browser (like Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox or Safari), then change that habit, let your software (or service) notify you of new things instead of you checking them out everyday. That way, you save precious time and also read more content rather than just browsing.

With blogs and sites that get updated often, including your favorite newspapers, feeds are becoming a standard method of offering content to their readers without requiring any details from the readers like their email addresses.

What are those colored buttons that I see on websites?

You mean those orange or those blue ones? Yup, those are the feed links. And don’t worry about the color or XML, RSS, Atom, RDF written over them. XML is the technology feeds use to provide you the updated content and all those terms are the derivatives of this technology. Some clients don’t support all types of feeds, in which case, you may try the alternative feed, if available. Generally, most clients (software or service) provide a minimum RSS and Atom support.

Feed links spit out junk code

A common phenomenon that I’ve been a victim of, before I understood how feeds work. Feed links are not meant to be actually clicked. Since the code that you actually see is a machine readable language and is really meant for your software to sync and interpret it for you. So, the next time you see feed links, copy them instead of clicking on them and use them in your feed reader software (or web based feed service).

What software, service do you recommend?

FeedDemon is my favorite feed reader software and I have raves for it, but that doesn’t mean that others aren’t good, especially if you’re looking for something free to start with. Greatnews seems to be a wonderful free alternative. Among the web-based feed-services, I like Bloglines.

I can read the feed, but it looks so pale compared to the website

Well, look at it this way: if the content is more important to you and you want to read the updates regularly, then consider the feed. If instead, you love reading them on the website in its full graphical glory, you could always use the article link and open it in your web browser, but keep yourself automatically updated via a feed reader. Sounds fun? Thought so.

Any other advantages of using a feed, besides updates?

Well, the speed for one. If you’re on a dial-up network, you’ll appreciate the download time. All the posts on certain clients are actually downloaded and saved as cache, so you could read them offline too (just like your e-mail). In addition, you’ll also be doing site owners a favor by reading their content via feed that has lesser bandwidth requirement.

And in my site itself(with semilogic theme) there is a link that explains about feeds:

What is this feed thing everyone is talking about?

It’s a standardized format that lets you subscribe to a web site using a tool called a news reader or aggregator.

The orange XML and RSS buttons are scarecrows meant to put newbies off let you locate feeds in one quick glance.
Why should I care about feeds?

The reasons you should care about feeds reportedly are:

* You want to be notified of updates from the many web sites that you read without visiting them one by one
* You prefer to read your favorite web sites from one convenient location without any interface clutter

In practice, the reasons you should and do care about feeds are:

* You want to be notified of updates from the many web sites that you don’t trust enough to reveal them your email address
* You want to reorganize the raw information that is available for syndication as you see fit

What are XML, RSS and Atom anyway?
It is all meaningless to you ? No worries …most self proclaimed experts have absolutely no idea of what they are talking about either.

In short, though:

* RSS (Really Simple Syndication) and Atom are two XML (eXtended Markup Language) formats that are competing one another
* XML — and Web Services — is the latest means to clutter IT resources, by letting you do the same thing as ODBC (Open DataBase Connectivity) and RPC (Remote Procedure Call) in a less efficient manner

History-wise:

* Dave Winer reportedly invented RSS and syndication
* Apple reportedly innovated by using RSS feeds to create active desktops
* Microsoft released an Active Desktop with — *cough* — Windows 95

Standards-wise:

* There are a dozen incompatible flavors of RSS and Atom that are labeled as standard
* RSS is a standardized XML format that does not comply with the recommended XML date format
* Some geeks report that Atom is better than RSS, but noone really cares
* RSS will prevail in the end; simply because it is adopted by Microsoft

Protocol-wise:

* Feeds use a dumb protocol that is equivalent to setting up a distributed denial of service attack on your own web site

And in practice:

* Many feed subscribers are automated web sites set up by spammers who republish your content alongside ads (spam blogs, or “splogs”)

As already explained, feed readers are basically two kinds – web based readers or installable softwares.

The benefit of using web based readers is two-fold:

* A web-based service means your favorite feeds will remain available when you change computers
* Search engines (will) provide tools to organize feeds by topic and relevance rather than by site and date

Among the web based, the popular one and the best for beginners is bloglines:

What is a “feed”?

It’s a Web product that allows you easily to see (and read, if you wish) what’s new on the Web sites and Web logs you visit most often.

Why can’t I just visit these sites myself, one by one?

You can. This way is easier. Your Bloglines home page will tell you at a glance when there’s nothing new to you on a site. It’s a very systematic way of keeping up and keeping track.

Is Bloglines the only such service or the best such service?

No and I don’t know. It works well for me and it’s free.

How do I get started?

To get started, go to the link for detailed Quick start guide.

These days almost all websites (which change over a period of time, irrespective of their content or type-text/pics/audio) provide RSS/Atom feeds.
Once comfortable, see these too:
Top 10 RSS Hacks
Taking RSS beyond headlines