Part One: Harness RSS to Sustain Your Travel Fix

Part one in a three part series of features on maximising the use of RSS for travel sites. You may be interesting in reading part two: 50 must-have RSS feeds for travellers and part three: 10 Essential Tips for Streamlining RSS Feeds.

I know so few people that use RSS feeds, that it’s unreal. It’s amazing because using them isn’t much effort, they make it easy to keep on top of all the topics you’re interested in and you can access them from any computer no matter where you are. This especially applies to the travel industry because there are so many different areas to keep an eye on and they’re constantly updating, meaning if you’re not paying attention, it’s easy to miss something new. I thought I’d run through the steps you can take to setting up an RSS Reader for displaying travel feeds. It’s ridiculously easy and the change is well worth it.

RSSunset

I think most people are comfortable with just bookmarking and checking sites at their own leisure. But there will come a point when you either have too many bookmarks to keep on top of, or you’ll miss an important site update which you really needed to know. Take festival tickets as a prime example – if you’re checking the festival site manually via a bookmark every day, you might come late to the ticket sale. Whereas with an RSS feed, you’ll get updated the instant the news goes live.

In this post, I’ll take you through:

  • 1. The basics – what is RSS and how do you use it?
  • 2. Feed Readers – what they are and how they display your feeds.
  • 3. Adding your feeds – migrating feeds to a Feed Reader.
  • 4. Feed organisation – arranging feeds for easy reading.
  • 5. Replacing your homepage – using Feed Readers as a central hub.

Let’s start with the basics, such as what exactly RSS is and how you use feeds.

1. What are RSS feeds?

It a nut-shell, they’re like self-updating bookmarks. They’re most commonly displayed on websites as this orange beacon which is also a link: RSS Icon. They contain all the latest information from a site and update automatically as new stuff gets posted. This means when you add an RSS feed to your bookmarks, you’ll get an extended menu offering you each of the latest posts.

Try it and see how easy it is. Click the above orange symbol and see what happens. The actions you take next might differ slightly depending on what browser you’re using, but the end result is the same.

Adding RSS feeds in Internet Explorer:

Diagram showing how to add RSS in Internet Explorer

Adding RSS feeds in Firefox:

Diagram showing how to add RSS in Internet Explorer

What if you’re using a browser that’s a bit outdated and can’t access feeds like this? Don’t worry! This is just an example of RSS usage. You can still move onto the next step and start using a standalone Feed Reader.

Now that you know what RSS feeds are and how to get them, you can easily view updates to the sites you read. So, what’s the best way to use them?

2. Choosing a Feed Reader

Just like with normal bookmarks, feeds can get messy and organising them can be difficult. I used to spend hours creating all neatly laid out folders for all mine. That’s where RSS Feed Readers come into it. Instead of storing all your RSS feeds in a toolbar or bookmark manager in your browser as just shown above, you can give them their very own web page. It’s all free and again, it’s very easy. It also takes your feeds from being a few links, to being able to read all your sites without externally visiting them.

Firstly, you’ll need to choose your weapon. I personally use Netvibes; another popular one is Google Reader, but there are hundreds of different kinds out there. I’m going to stick with Netvibes for the purpose of a tutorial, but as they all work very similarly, there won’t be any big differences if you decide to use something different.

3. Adding RSS to your Feed Reader

Start by opening http://www.netvibes.com/ and signing up. Once you’ve done that you’ll be faced with a page that looks much like a browser with several tabs that each already have a few feeds. In the screencast below, I’ll scrap all the default feeds and start adding my own. It’s as easy as pie.


[View large size screencast]

In just a few short minutes, we’ve moved from static bookmarks to having your own personal hub, featuring all the content you want to read. Now let’s look at organising all this information.

4. Organising all of your travel feeds

In the above screencast, I showed how easy it is to grab a feed from a site you want to read and add it to your feed reader. However, if you’re like me, you’ll read a lot of sites and Netvibes is quickly going to get very messy. So we need to start organising things a bit better, otherwise each time you open Netvibes, you’ll be overwhelmed with information.

The best way to begin is to sort out tabs for each topic, just in the way you would separate your files into folders. For example, since I follow a lot of newspaper feeds, I’m going to make a tab just for newspapers, and so on. Then within each of these tabs, I’m going to organise columns, reduce feeds to only display a couple of lines and colour co-ordinate any that need to be distinguished. I made another screencast to show how easy this is:


[View large size screencast]

So that’s all your feeds nicely presented. Now you need to start thinking about how best to visit Netvibes.

5. Replacing your homepage

From now on, each time you visit netvibes.com and sign in, all your information will be there. So you can be on holiday in Iceland and log onto the hotel lobby computers and still find all your travel feeds. You can even visit on your mobile phone. But what about when you’re just at home? I made my feed reader my homepage. That means that when I first open my browser in the morning, every site that I read instantly appears.

You don’t have to use it as a homepage though, you could just bookmark Netvibes and visit it whenever you want to check up on any news. The best part is that it significantly reduces your bookmark folder, as any sites that offer RSS feeds can all be migrated into your Feed Reader and removed from the toolbar.

I wanted to finish on taking Netvibes an extra step further though and not just using it as a personalised homepage, but almost as a browser itself. In the final screencast below, I’ll show how Netvibes enables you to read all of the information in your feeds and how you control and follow what’s new and what you’ve already read.


[View large size screencast]

And that’s that. You know what RSS is, how to best organise feeds and how to read them without clicking outside of the one page! Any questions or something isn’t clear? Just ask in the comments!

Part two: 50 must-have RSS feeds for travellers to help keep on top of all the news.

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