What are feeds and why use them

If you consider yourself an avid consumer (or perhaps a disseminator) of content, knowing what are feeds are can simplify the way you inform yourself or bring traffic to your blog.

Feeds, also known as web feeds or streams, are text files that, in computer language, update you when certain online content has been published. Basically, when an author publishes a new article on the blog you follow, you are conveniently “notified” thanks to a simple subscription.

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But now let us go into more detail to understand what feeds are and why to use them.

What are RSS feeds?

Which channels do you use to distribute your posts or read articles on your favorite websites? Social networks are a good solution but too dispersed, the news of your interest risks getting lost in a sea of information.

Go through all the blogs we are passionate about to check for updates. That would be too time-consuming and energy-consuming. Subscribe to dozens and dozens of newsletters? They would clog up your e-mail inbox and you would risk ignoring them.

RSS feeds, an acronym for Really Simple Syndication, are the ideal alternative to circumvent these problems.

icon feed rss

But what are RSS feeds? They are a winning weapon in the hands of both those who produce content and intend to disseminate it and those who use it.

The former must activate the possibility of obtaining updates via RSS, possibly by highlighting this service by displaying the typical orange icon, while the latter need only subscribe to RSS feeds by clicking on the icon itself.

All finished? No, at this point you need what in computer science is called an “aggregator”, i.e. software that automatically collects all the RSS text files for which you have subscribed.

This is a very convenient service as it allows you to get all the updates from the websites you are interested in in a single container. Well, now you can finally enjoy your content. Almost there. RSS are text files formatted according to a meta-language that in computer science is called XML. Fortunately, to overcome this problem, the famous “readers” come to the rescue.

By interpreting the stream, they will allow you to display your content correctly.

In reality, RSS aggregators and readers perform the same function, i.e. they collect and interpret information. Let us, therefore, see how they do this and which are the most widely used.

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Feed Reader: from flow to content

It only takes a click to translate that series of incomprehensible codes for the human mind into actual articles, photos, videos, or podcasts.

This is possible when feed readers come to our rescue. RSS readers (or feed aggregators) are programs that follow the updates that happen on websites that engage you (provided you have subscribed to the feeds).

In a nutshell, if your favorite authors publish a new article, the feed reader knows about it, picks it up, and informs you. All you have to do is click and enjoy your news! We all know that time is a precious resource, so it is better to save it in research (since technology is coming our way) and spend it on enjoying the content you like best.

Most used readers and which one to choose

What are feeds without the software that encodes them? Are these programs that translate computer language really indispensable?

In order to stay up-to-date with new technologies and job opportunities related to the digital sphere and follow the flow of a news site, retraining professionally will enable you to master the main techniques for understanding every detail and peculiarity and avoid coming across an illegible string of text! So the answer is yes, they are indispensable.

what are feeds and importance

Granted that probably the best reader around was Google Reader, which, unfortunately, has not been running since July 2013, let us now look at some free RSS readers that fulfill their function very well:

  • RSSOwl is an excellent alternative to Google Reader, simple and intuitive thanks also to the tag system that allows you to associate certain keywords with the news. It notifies you of news and is compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux.
  • Inoreader is a very fast reader with a special feature, namely that it incorporates a small internal search engine that allows news to be searched by topic. Another not-insignificant advantage? It has an archive that allows files to be stored permanently.
  • Finally, the undisputed king: Feedly is undoubtedly the worthy heir to Google Reader. To date, it is the reader most used by RSS feed lovers, fast in loading, and customizable even in its basic (free) version. The paid version certainly offers advanced features, such as keyword alerts.

How Social Feeds Work

We have just seen what feeds are from a predominantly “IT” point of view, a difficult and, for some, sometimes a bit boring subject. What if I told you that feeds also have to do with something more engaging, such as… social media?

We are constantly scrolling through the home page of a social network or glancing at the latest blog posts of interest to us. That succession of content is called a feed, also called a news feed, as it is continuously updated within the platform we are viewing.

If you ask Google Support what feeds are, its answer will be this:

A feed is a sequence of content that can be accessed by scrolling down the page. Content is published in similar-looking blocks that are repeated one after the other. For example, a feed can be editorial (a list of articles or news items) or made up of tabs (e.g. a list of products, services, and so on).”

Let us now see what the feeds of the main platforms and applications we use more or fewer days are and how they work.

Facebook Feed: What is it?

The Global Digital research, conducted by We Are Social in collaboration with Hootsuite, shows (slide no. 77 of the study) That we spend about 2 hours a day on social media..

It is therefore very likely that you too have found yourself scrolling through the news on the home page of the most popular social network owned by Mark Zuckerberg. Well, the section rich in content with which you can interact is precisely the Facebook News Feed.

But how does FB’s social feed work? Clarifying our ideas could be “Mr. News Feed”, an appellation referring to Adam Mosseri, the current CEO of Instagram, who was in charge of Facebook’s news section and algorithm from 2012 to 2016.

This young designer has for years built, unbuilt, and reshaped the way we interact on the platform, and it is precisely on the basis of the interests we show that the news feed takes shape.

So what lies behind the creation of social media feeds? The answer lies in ranking, which is a mechanism that predicts the success (measured in interactions) of a newly published post. The algorithm will take care of creating a news section full of posts that you are more likely (and more likely) to connect with.

Instagram: the social photo feed

The Menlo Park company’s most “visual” social network shows a feed designed with the same technologies as its cousin Facebook.

What customized feeds are for each user and how they are constructed we have seen above, after all, we are talking about Facebook.Inc, is a US company that includes the eponymous social, Instagram, WhatsApp, and other companies carrying out specific projects (which I am sure we will hear about).

photographic social feed

The goal of the Instagram feed is therefore the same, to offer a pleasant browsing experience by offering users a main screen occupied by “engaging” posts and content that arouses curiosity and stimulates interaction. The feed will therefore be animated by the profiles and hashtags we follow but also by related accounts and topics because remember: the algorithm knows our interests!

This should not scare you, far from it. AI (artificial intelligence) has the means to sew the best possible feed on ourselves, but you also have power over the algorithm! How? Stop following profiles that do not generate value and make a selection of hashtags that reflect your passions.

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Customized news flow on Google

Have you ever heard of Google Discover? If so far we have seen user-specific social home pages, in this case, we are talking about a feed consisting of customized news.

This service from Google allows us to receive updates on topics of interest directly on our smartphones. It is an option that must be activated within the Google App, and it is no coincidence that it was born under the name Google Feed, before evolving into Google Discover.

The Mountain View company is also exploiting AI to propose news that is as relevant as possible, with a machine learning system that learns from our searches on the search engine and, in general, from all the actions performed within the applications closely linked to Google (including YouTube and Google Maps).

An excellent weapon that goes hand in hand with Google News.

YouTube and RSS feeds

You too are subscribed to numerous YouTube channels but don’t always receive notifications when a new video is uploaded. The good news, RSS comes to your aid by simply pasting the individual channel URL into your aggregator. This resource is obviously also an advantage for those who own a channel and want to increase the distribution of their content.

Providing further simplification by avoiding the annoying copy and paste (in the case of many channels) is Google Chrome which, with its RSS Finder extension, allows us to copy channel URL’s with a single click.

One last thing about the grid of videos you see on YouTube’s home page: do you have any idea why as soon as you enter the app (or the site) you find a selection of videos that you have already viewed or that are close to the topics in which you have shown interest? Obviously, by now it is clear, the platform is analyzed by an algorithm that builds a YouTube feed suitable for you.

Well, we’ve talked about what feeds are and how they can help you visualize and disseminate your content… now all I have to do is go to your blog and subscribe to hear from you!

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