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RSS Readers, Article Alerts, and New Ways to Keep Up: RSS Basics

This guide details several different methods for keeping up with new literature in your field, be it through article alerts, RSS feeds, or a combination of the two in new article discovery systems.

Featured RSS Readers

Each of these RSS readers provides different features. Experiment with them and narrow down to one you like — they all have advantages, disadvantages, and loyal followings. For a comprehensive list of RSS readers and the platforms they support, please visit this Wikipedia page comparing feed readers. If you want to get a feel for them without signing up, check YouTube for tutorials! 

Your desktop or laptop may also have RSS reading software.

PC users enjoy Nextgen Reader, NewsFlow, and Veen Feed Reader; some of these are paid apps, but they tend to offer trials.

Highly-rated Mac apps include News Explorer, Leaf, ReadKit, and News Headlines (all of which are paid apps ranging from $2.99-$9.99).

Can what I have already do RSS?

The tools below are not RSS readers, but each of them supports some limited RSS functionality within the program. If you want to keep up with RSS without signing up for another service or downloading yet another piece of software, one of these integrated solutions might be your best solution.

Do you read blogs?

If you read blogs, you're in luck: RSS feeds are designed to be used in conjunction with these!

For any blog, such as Scholarly Kitchen, Retraction Watch, or Sociological Images (just to get you thinking), just copy and paste the blog's URL into the box where you add feeds to your feed readers. 99.9% of the time, your RSS reader will find the feed you want.

Introduction to RSS Readers and Reading

Define RSS.

RSS stands for Rich or RDF Site Summary. In the context of RSS adoption, many people call it Really Simple Syndication. Once you know the basics of RSS, it is easy.

What does RSS do?

RSS feeds are a protocol that lets the Internet know that content on a site changes frequently. It is a file with a unique URL that contains data describing a site's most recent changes. You will rarely ever see the "raw" file, which is encoded in XML and looks similar to what you see when you view a web page's source code. Many websites — such as news agency pages — use RSS in the backend without users ever knowing that that's how the update feed is set up.

Fortunately, we can use RSS feeds without looking at the XML file by using software to subscribe to feeds from all over the web. An RSS reader checks your subscribed feeds regularly for new arrivals, downloads updates, and provides a human-readable interface for you to enjoy. 

Why should I use a feed reader? Can I use RSS without one?

An RSS reader, feed reader, or RSS aggregator is essential to using RSS actively. Many feed readers are standalone web sites or integrated directly into email programs (such as Outlook and Thunderbird). Feed readers also make it easy to just see a list of what's happening on your favorite web sites without having to scroll past giant pictures or click the Next Page button. They save time and help you get to the content that matters.

You can find an incomplete list of RSS reading software on Wikipedia — which includes some familiar tools like the Safari web browser and some email clients. Pay attention to the column that says when the feed was last updated, as it will help you when choosing what to use. has a list of over 200 RSS readers that you can sort by platform, features, and license.

Without an RSS reader, you will just see the XML RSS document. It is theoretically usable, but not easy on the eyes.

How is this different from Twitter or Facebook pages that I can follow for updates?

On Twitter or Facebook, you follow a site's update feed, but you may not see all of its content — that depends on the algorithm. Or, if you follow a news site, you may see everything when you're only interested in a specific topic, like health or climate news.

Additionally, checking social media instead of using RSS provides an opportunity to be distracted! Almost everyone has had the experience of checking Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit in pursuit of specific information only to end up diving into a deep sea of current events. RSS readers show you everything from a site's RSS feed.

How do I find an RSS feed?

  • Type in RSS feed and the name of a news website, government agency, or complex site. This is recommended because many large-scale sites have special pages where they list out feeds by topic.
  • If a website or blog uses Wordpress or Blogger, it usually has an RSS feed. Just paste the URL into your feed reader and see what happens.

RSS feeds can also be identified with the universal symbol for RSS: . Most RSS symbols have an orange background, but the color may vary on the web site's design scheme. When you see the dot with the two arcs, clicking that (or right-clicking and selecting "Copy Link Address") will let you see the site's RSS feed.

From there, you can either copy and paste the link to subscribe to the feed in the reader of your choice, or in the case of many web browsers, such as Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, or Chrome, click a button to subscribe directly. However, a browser subscription is limited to the one computer with the browser.

Why have I never heard of RSS?

RSS isn't discussed as much online as it was 10 years ago even if it's still used in web applications. Most people are more familiar with social media.

How to Troubleshoot

Most of the time, RSS will work. Sometimes, it doesn't. This page provides some quick guidelines on troubleshooting your RSS reading experience. It will also provide a framework for you to find what you need to improve your reading experience even if you aren't having any explicit problems.

First, take advantage of advanced search operators in Google. If you type followed by "getting started" or "tutorial," you will find places in that domain that provide guidance on how to do what you need to do in Firefox, for example. Another trick is to use inurl:faq, which will only return pages that contain the characters "faq" in the URL itself. Click on one of the sample searches below to see how it works for yourself.

Second, YouTube is an excellent resource for videos about anything RSS. To troubleshoot or learn more about features in your program, typing the name of the software into the YouTube search box followed by the word "tutorial" (or what you need it to do) generally works. Here are a few examples: