A feed is a data source that is periodically updated with new content. You can subscribe to a feed to get updates without having to revisit a website. Feeds are like the "timelines" or "walls" of other social media networks.
We publish feeds in RSS and iCal format. These formats are not trendy or well-known any more, but they are still very useful. This page will help you get started with them.
Unlike social media timelines, you typically get access to all contents published on a feed, without an algorithm hiding content from you. The downside to this is that you have to ignore the stuff you don't want, or use an app that will filter content for you.
RSS stands for "Really Simple Syndication" (or maybe "Rich Site Summary"). It started as a way for people to keep updated on news sites and blog posts. It is still widely used for podcasts.
There is an update to RSS called Atom. There are differences between the two, but for the most part readers that support RSS often support Atom feeds as well.
RSS feeds are often indicated with the following symbol:
To make use of an RSS feed you need a feed reader -- a program that subscribes to these feeds and updates its content as the RSS feed changes.
First, you need one or more feeds to subscribe to. For example, you might want to subscribe to the WatCamp RSS feed. To do that you need the address of the feed. For example, for the WatCamp RSS feed, you would use the address https://feeds.off-topic.kwlug.org/feeds/watcamp.rss .
Next, you need software that will interpret your feeds and display the results. There are many, many options available. Here are a few places to start:
You can subscribe your feeds on a web service. This is easiest because then you do not need to install software on a device, and because you can read your feeds from any device that has a web browser. The downside is that many of these websites charge money, display advertising, or limit the number of feeds you can subscribe to for free. Two popular services are InoReader and Feedly, but there are many others.
Some web browsers offer support for RSS feeds, usually through plugins. Mozilla Firefox has an extension called FeedBro, which is also available for Google Chrome.
Microsoft Outlook and Office 365 both allow you to subscribe to RSS feeds.
On MacOS, you might try NetNewsWire.
For iPhones, you might try Reeder.
Mozilla Thunderbird is a multi-platform email application. Here are some instructions for subscribing to RSS feeds in Thunderbird.
If you use Linux on the desktop you might consider Liferea.
If you are comfortable with the commandline on Linux or MacOS, you might consider the terminal-based application Newsboat.
If you are a nerd, you might consider setting up your own web-based RSS service on a spare computer, a Raspberry Pi, or a webhost. Two popular alternatives here are MiniFlux and TinyTinyRSS.
iCal is a standard for exchanging calendar information. Somewhat confusingly, iCal can be used to share both information about single events ("Add this event to your calendar!") and also feeds of event information that are regularly updated (for example, "Subscribe to upcoming events!"). You want to subscribe to the feeds of updated events.
Some web addresses for iCal feeds begin with
Some servers and programs support "CalDav", which in principle allows
two way synchronization of calendars. Those web addresses begin with
webcal://. In practice you will probably not synchronize event
calendars both ways, so subscribing with
https:// URLs is fine.
As with RSS, you will need a web address of an iCal feed in order to use it with a feed reader. For example, the iCal address for the WatCamp feed is https://www.google.com/calendar/ical/nlkc39jt4p0nbc4pk9pj7p5fh0%40group.calendar.google.com/public/basic.ics .
The Lower Hudson Information Center has published instructions on subscribing to iCal feeds from many popular programs:
Mozilla Thunderbird has an add-on called Lightning which supports iCal feeds.
MacOS comes with Apple iCal, which allows you to subscribe to calendars.
As of 2017, it appears that Android did not provide direct ways to import iCal feeds without either Google Calendar or a third party app. However, this StackExchange answer lists some apps you can try.