Whether you're participating in A-Z, or just want a good way to wrangle all your friends' posts, check out what's below.
What's an RSS feed, anyway?
RSS stands for "Rich Site Summary" but is also just called "Really Simple Syndication." Because that's what it is. This is the output from your blog, and no matter what blog service you use, an RSS feed allows others to easily view the content of your blog and to subscribe to your updates.
What's a feed reader?
A feed reader concatenates all of your RSS feeds into one place—so instead of going to friend A's blog and reading it, and then friend B's blog and reading it, you can see friend A's post and friend B's posts in the same place (and maybe friend C is on top because she updated most recently.) You can also group your feeds, which is a huge time saver for blog reading.
There are lots of feed readers out there. Lifehacker, one of my favorite blogs, frequently lists their favorites. But a lot of people, like me, use Google. It's free, it's easy to access, you probably already have a Google account, and well, why not succumb to Google taking over the world? (Someday, I'll regret this, but not today...) These same steps do apply to most other feed readers, however, so once you've learned to use one, the others will work very similarly. So feel free to pick your favorite!
So how do I use it?
It's simple. Google reader does two things—aggregate your feeds, and allow you to organize them. First, let's look at how to add a feed.
There are three primary ways to add a feed to Google Reader: a Blogger blog link, an RSS feed subscription, or by entering the URL. Let's look at them:
This is probably the simplest way to follow a blog, and it's why my site is hosted on Blogger even though I prefer Wordpress. A Blogger.com blog allows you to put a nifty little "follow this blog" widget in the sidebar. Anyone else who is using a Blogger account can simply click, select whether they'd like to follow publicly or privately, and boom! It shows up in their Blogger feed.
|A Join This Site Widget|
2. RSS Feed
This gets a tiny bit more complicated, but not much. For non-Blogger blogs, or for blogger blogs where the "follow this blog" widget isn't engaged, you can use a direct link to the site's RSS. You'll often see something labeled "RSS" or "Feed" (and as a design aside—it's a good idea to link to your feed even if you use Blogger and the widget).
|An RSS feed link|
When you're logged in to Google, a window will appear when you click on that feed, asking you where you'd like to put it—on your Google homepage, or on Google Reader. Simply choose Google Reader, and you're good to go.
|The "Add to Goggle Reader" button.|
3. Site URL
No Blogger button? No RSS feed link? Not to worry. Google Reader also offers the option of cutting and pasting the URL into the "Subscribe" box. You'll find the link on the upper left-hand corner of your GR home screen. Once you've pasted in the URL of the blog you'd like to follow, GR will do the work of figuring out what the RSS feed is for you. This is a step removed from being able to click something while you're visiting the blog, which is why I make it option #3, but for many people, this is an easy way to add. Anyway, the result is the same.
|Adding via URL input|
Once you've added a feed, it will show up in your reader, which means you can read the blog straight from the reader. But if you start following more than a handful of blogs, you're going to want some organization. In this last screenshot, you can see that I've got some folders set up in the bottom part of the panel. For instructions on how to do that, stay tuned—I'll post that on Thursday (spoiler alert: it's easy!)
Do you use a feed reader? Which one do you use? Let me know in the comments.