Feed Reading and RSS for Dummies (Like Us)

Today is RSS Awareness Day, and we’ve decided to join in on helping people keep their email inboxes nice and tidy while benefiting from having all their favorite blog posts in one neat place.

If you are an experienced ‘net user, this post isn’t for you. Consider it a day off. Sorry. We’ll be back tomorrow with more complex thoughts to boggle your mind.

The fine people at Daily Blog Tips have put together a special site to help teach newcomers to RSS what they need to know to get started on the path to happier technological living. Visit RSSDay.org here.

Our own conversion away from our beloved inbox only happened recently. Read about how James discovered the beauty of reading feeds and how he managed to convince Harry that it was a good thing. (Not always an easy feat.)

The reason it took both of us so long to get into feed reading was very simple: There were no For Dummies instructions available. Everyone was blogging about how feeds made your life better, but no one was blogging about where to go, how to set it up, and how to work it.

It was pretty simple:

  • Go to www.Google.com/Reader.
  • Sign up for an account.
  • Click the “Add Subscription” link.
  • Stick in your favorite blog’s URL.
  • Hit Enter.


You can have as many feed subscriptions as you want. You can put them in little folders and organize them. You can mark individual posts to retrieve them later. You can delete feeds when you realize a blog really is crappy and has nothing to offer.

And all you need to do when you need to see all the posts from your favorite blogs in one place? Go to www.google.com/reader again. They’re sweet enough to remember who you are.

And your email inbox? Well, now you can actually use it for real email again.


Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. Good job guys, I’ve written my own post to “syndicate” the word.

    Mark Dykeman’s last blog post..RSS Awareness Day

  2. James,

    The best part of those two articles is the comments section. Overnight rock stars, indeed. 😉

    Tried RSS, went back to email subscriptions. One, it actually made me dizzy scrolling past everything all in a row, so I’m better off one little email at a time. Two, I use email as enforced editing. Nobody wants an overflowing email inbox (well, I don’t), so it makes me very picky about what I read daily. Not too many get in; even fewer stay for long. Once a month or so I boot everybody who does too many lazy posts that clog the inbox and don’t add value.

    This post IS valuable to some, because you are right. A lot of people have no clue what that incredibly gorgeous button in the corner is all about. Nor why others have the sad, neglected little orange buttons that have never known the love of a Man With a Pen. So you won’t miss a moment of your favorite blogs, folks!



    Kelly’s last blog post..Inspiration Points: With Laser-like Focus, He Went the Wrong Way…

  3. @ Kelly – Innit funny? I had to go look because I’d forgotten who’d commented and… uh… wow.

  4. I use both. I have rss’d the ones that I want to read on a -once in a while basis or even a daily but only once a day basis.

    The Pen Gang that I am keeping up with comments while I am happiliy working ( just fofthe fun of it) and by that I mean, a select few blogs, I have moves to e-mail status so they come to me and I don’t have to work that hard.

    So for example, every comment here will come to my e-mail box and serve to amuse me all day long.. Bwahahahaa.

    Wendi Kelly’s last blog post..Twiddling Thumbs

  5. Brett Legree says:


    This is perfect. My friend Friar has been wanting to learn about RSS, and I was going to show him (I still will, of course), but I’ll send him over here to have a look at your post, as it will give him a good idea of how this works.

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..fix the stairs.

  6. James,

    Just remember, I didn’t use the word funny. 🙂

    I knew you before you were rock stars, but not in the Dark Ages of six months ago. I was just telling my mother that’s practically old for a blog (like mine!), and of course you gents are much older. That’s why Harry always knows where I left my cane.

    Until later,


    Kelly’s last blog post..Inspiration Points: With Laser-like Focus, He Went the Wrong Way…

  7. This is important. I think we get caught up in our web world and forget that it’s still a pretty small world. When I think of all of my ‘real life’ friends and acquaintances, probably 95% of them don’t even follow blogs regularly, let alone subscribe to feeds. Sometimes it feels like living a dual life.

  8. Speaking of which, have you guys changed your comment feed settings? Just noticed that I haven’t gotten anything new in that feed in about a week.

  9. Aye, we found out a day or two ago that they weren’t working properly. A ping shot to Feedburner seems to have cleared up the issue, because when I sign up now to test, all the comments come in.

    Possibly refresh your feed reader? Let me know if it’s not working.

    And you’re right. I often am taken aback by how technologically savvy we are when someone blinks at me and says, “You can get email? From anyone. What do they need to do to send me something?”

    or even better…

    “How do you shut this computer off?! And what’s that box popping up in my face??! Am I supposed to do something? How do I get out of this page?”

  10. Brett Legree says:


    Sometimes I think it is intentional misinformation from certain factions in “the industry”. I mean, if the bulk of people think that if they press the wrong key, the computer will explode, then they’ll come back to get any little thing done.

    (Like Best Buy charging for disk defragmentation… sheesh)

    I, like you guys, usually try to show people how to do things themselves. Then, when you need a favour in that person’s area of specialty, you can call it in 🙂

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..fix the stairs.

  11. This is ironic. I stumbled across google reader a few days ago. Yesterday I tried the suggested Top Recommendations feature. This is the second article I’ve read from Men with Pens. I’ll be reading many more.

    I’m using the Next feature. I like it. When reading directly from Google Reader the posts are sometimes truncated and you can’t read or write comments.

    Mikel Potts’s last blog post..The Poet and The Critic

  12. @ Mikel – Glad to have you join us and glad to make you a new reader.

    As for the truncated feeds, that’s something that the blog or blog owner does to your feed. You have to click the title of the post that you’re reading in your feed to travel to the blog to leave a comment.

    It’s annoying. It’s frustrating. It’s irritating. And it’s stupid. We are really down on partial feeds (not in a good way, either) and if you click that link, you’ll read why.

  13. Oh, MEN. Do a whole series. Do CommentLuv next. I want I want I want. I know you said I couldn’t have it but I don’t BELIEVE you.

    Tei’s last blog post..The War on English: Bunny Rabbit Ears

  14. @Mary – Oh, I can relate! It does feel like a dual life at times.

    @James – I will have to try the Google.com reader link you have listed, because I’m using, xsml? (I think that’s what it is) and it is not working well for me.

    I didn’t know what RSS until a few weeks ago. You know, I would come to people’s sites and wonder what those funny little buttons were all about. Mainly they frightened me because I thought they might do something to my computer. Either that or transport me into space.

    Ellen Wilson’s last blog post..Feed on Some RSS Fruit

  15. I like iGoogle more than Google Reader; folks should check out both and see what they like.

    I ignored RSS longer than I should have. I not only had to understand how to *use* it, but I also had to learn how to *create* feeds (‘cuz as you know, I “roll my own” web stuff). That was challenging – the docs are very geekish and there are gotcha’s they don’t mention.

    I do want to put in a plug for FeedBurner to – I run my feeds through them and wish I had done that instantly too.

    Tony Lawrence’s last blog post..If you can’t say anything nice.. by Anthony Lawrence

  16. @James – Not all truncated feeds are bad.

    I also subscribe to news feeds in my browser. When I’m going over world news, tech news, or just the local gossip I don’t want to wade through 300 plus full length articles. Most of the time a headline and synopsis are all I care about. I’ll chose to read the ones that grab my interest.

    I hadn’t tried subscribing to blogs until Google Reader. It’s different. Blogs tend to be more focused, and if I didn’t like the majority of the articles I wouldn’t be visiting.

    I don’t do any RSS in email.

    Mikel Potts’s last blog post..The Poet and The Critic

  17. Whoa. Wait. Stop just a moment!

    Are you telling me RSS has it’s very own awareness day? I mean, well – that’s just funny. I did not know RSS shared a day with other special days set aside for things like breast cancer. Ok, if that’s the way it is, I guess I’ll go with it.

    The way I started using Google Reader was I noticed the majority of my blog subscribers subscribed using Google’s Feed Reader. I figured it was wise of me, from a business standpoint, to see how people are view my blog.

    . . . then I got hooked and it’s a permanent tab locked on my FireFox’s tab bar.

    Question though. Did I see in the comment section here that you can leave comments to blogs without ever leaving G. Feed Reader?

    The way I do it now I have to visit the site to leave a comment.

    John Hoff’s last blog post..How To Buy A House Like A Real Estate Investor: Part 3 – More On Dealing With Down Payments

  18. @ John – I think Mikel mentioned that, but I don’t know how to do that myself. If there’s a trick, I’d love it. If it’s a different feed reader, I’ll try it. Mike?

    As for special days, there’s a freakin’ special day out there for everything under the sun. There’s probably an international Post-It Note Awareness Day and one for Canadian Broadcasting Awareness Day too.

    Neibu Day. Let’s make that one June 22.

  19. @ John & James – No, you have to go to the blog to comment.

    Some of the full feeds offer a comment link at the bottom of the article. The link takes you to the article’s individual page with comments. Men with Pens does. My blog doesn’t, and I don’t see any obvious way to add the link. It is probably an RSS feed option available on some blog hosts and not others.

    What you can do is use the Next link in your browser. It places a link in your in your bookmark bar. Each time you click on the link it takes you directly to the next unread article on the blog’s site. You keep hitting next until you run out of unread articles. Since the link takes you to the blog, all the blog’s features are available, including comments.

    It’s handy when you just want to work through all your unread articles without the extra interface or features in Google Reader.

    Go to ‘settings’ while in Google Reader and the ‘Goodies’ tab to set it up.

    Mikel Potts’s last blog post..The Poet and The Critic

  20. @ Mikel – The links at the bottoms of our feed posts are handpicked features from Feedburner. You can set your feed to publish all sorts of things. So if you use Feedburner, you can have cool comment links too! (If you don’t, I’m sorry. You should.)

    I’ll try the other thing and see what happens. Sounds handy.

  21. John,

    It also has its own official Awareness Day logo. Now that’s wacky.

    My own blog is the only one in my reader. Just to make sure it all looks right… well, as right as it can in a reader. That’s a little pain point to me about RSS. Kinda ugly…



    (Brett: I am not here right now. Okay, so I came back. But I’m leaving again to write, really!)

  22. @ James – I saw the Feedburner option, but wasn’t sure what it would do, other than allow me to advertise at the bottom of the feed. I’ll check it out. Thanks.

    Mikel Potts’s last blog post..The Poet and The Critic

  23. Diane Penna says:

    I’m so glad you wrote this. I’m forwarding it to my husband immediately. It seems he doesn’t watch the news often enough…so I’ll try to have a conversation with him and he is clueless. One day I just said “you really should subscribe to some rss feeds.” His reply of course was “what are rss feeds.” Duh.

    Diane Penna’s last blog post..Born Into Creativity

  24. Brett Legree says:


    It’s not me you have to worry about, it’s Tyler Durden… although, you’re a nice gal, I’m sure he’d just ask you out for dinner 🙂

    Happy Beltane, have a bonfire in your apartment…

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..fix the stairs.

  25. Brett, this post is killing me! I have to take little breaks or the bonfire will involve my 852 pages of notes! Wishing someone would show up to take me to dinner is just begging for failure, isn’t it…

    Ahem. What I meant is, RSS is very nice. Everyone run and go get it. Unless it makes you seasick, like it does me.

    How come I can’t get 25 comments on my “day off”?

    Because you need to go finish your writing, Kelly…

    Kelly’s last blog post..Inspiration Points: With Laser-like Focus, He Went the Wrong Way…

  26. Now, on the other hand, as a blogger the thing that I don’t like about RSS subscriptions is that most of the time you can’t tell who your subscribers are.

    Small price to pay, I guess. 🙂

    Mark Dykeman’s last blog post..RSS Awareness Day

  27. @ Mark – I second that. I hate that I can’t get to know who’s listening.

    John Hoff’s last blog post..How To Buy A House Like A Real Estate Investor: Part 3 – More On Dealing With Down Payments

  28. I’m new to Feeds and Readers for the same reasons! I also use both email and a reader and what made me shift to using feeds was having my own customised feed reader – branded with my website name.

    I am suspicious of Google and prefer not to put too much info in any one place.

    I also read some tweets in my reader

    And my favourite blogs

    Like this one


    Alex Newell’s last blog post..Michael Cheney’s List Told Him Where to Go and What to Do!

  29. @ Alex – Thank you! That’s so cool. And Google’s alright. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer 😉

  30. I could never get excited about Bloglines, despite my sister’s best efforts to convert me. But I became an enthusiastic user of Google Reader when I discovered it. Saves me so much time.

    Just curious, does Hallmark make a card for RSS Awareness Day? I feel like it deserves a card.

    Jennifer H’s last blog post..Trading places with myself

  31. Last week, I was too embarassed to even ask what RSS meant. But now you’ve summarized it in a few paragraphs, so that even a Dummy like me can understand.

    When I was in Grad Skule, I learned that a bad PhD assumes everyone knows what they’re talking about, so they can take the simplest topic and confuse the hell out of everyone.

    But a good Phd takes the most complicated topic, and can explain it to his grandmother. This is essentially what you’ve done here.

    Well done!

    Friar’s last blog post..Another Small Town Moment?

  32. And if you run an RSS feed and use FeedBurner, make certain your backlinks actually point TO your site (and not feedburner itself).



    Barbara LIng’s last blog post..Danger Will Robinson! CommentLuv and Feedburner DANGER and how you can fix it


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