Technically, RSS stands for Rich Site Summary but most people use the "Really Simple Syndication." The source of the content (blog, newspaper, etc) publishes a single page of content that looks something like this:
Obviously, no one wants to sift through stuff like this. So, RSS readers pull these pages in and present them to you in a way that is easier to read. The RSS reader acts as an aggregator of articles, blog posts, and other items from across the internet. This allows you to see and organize all of that content in one place under one format without having to remember to look at each one individually.<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8" ?> <rss version="2.0"> <channel> <title>RSS Title</title> <description>This is an RSS feed</description> <link>http://www.someexamplerssdomain.com/main.html</link> <lastBuildDate>Mon, 06 Sep 2010 00:01:00 +0000 </lastBuildDate> <pubDate>Mon, 06 Sep 2009 16:45:00 +0000 </pubDate> <item> <title>Example entry</title> <description>Here is a description.</description> <link>http://www.wikipedia.org/</link> <pubDate>Mon, 06 Sep 2009 16:45:00 +0000</pubDate> </item> </channel> </rss>
This is reader that I have the most experience with. Even if you don't plan on using Google, it is worthwhile to skim through this one to get the feel for how other readers work. In the next section, I do the best I can to link to other sources that can get you going with a other readers.
If you don't have any subscriptions (we'll get to that in a minute), the first screen that opens is the "Recommended items" page with some recent content to read. If you see something interesting, you can click on the title of the entry (larger bold text at the top of the entry) which will take you to the source of the content. You can also click on the feed title (smaller text just below the title) to see everything from that feed.
From here, you can click the "Subscribe" button so you don't miss any of them in the future. This isn't a bad time to check out the display options in the upper portion of the window. You can tell the reader to only show you items you haven't read yet, you can choose between expanded view (the default -- shows you all of the content) and list view (you only see the titles), and you can change the sorting.
So, how to find other sources of content... The Google interface has a number of tools that allow you to find stuff to read including bundles they have compiled. You can search for content there as well. But, more often than not, I find something on the web that I want to add. Most sites that have an RSS feed will provide a direct link to it. In fact, wouldn't know it, this blog has one too! There is a link on the right side of the screen that says "Subscribe via RSS" with direct links to a handful of popular RSS readers. Most larger websites have a summary page with all of their available feeds. Here are a few: CNN, Baltimore Sun, ESPN, People Magazine.
When you subscribe to feeds, you'll see them listed on left side of your screen under the heading "Subscriptions." The number in parenthesis is the number of new posts that you haven't read yet. Google usually brings in 10 or so of the most recent posts when you subscribe. I should warn you now that it can be very easy to get bogged down in all of the stuff you want to read. My reader currently has 970 unread items! If that happens, it is just as easy to unsubscribe from the stuff you don't want to see.
Once you have a few subscriptions, all of the items from all of them will show up when you click "All items". If you see something you want to go back and read, you can click the star next to the title and it will appear in the "Starred items" list. Yeah, this really isn't rocket science. ;-)
Some other options
If you are looking for other ways to start filling your reader with content, here are a few bundles that I've created for you to start with.
Fitness Starter Bundle
This one has a number of feeds that I always watch closely. Sources range from the US HHS's healthfinder.gov feed to major news sources to individual blogs that I find insightful or just plain fun.
Putting fitness feeds aside for a moment, here are a few feeds of local interest.
Everything Dan Hogan Fitness Bundle
And just in case you couldn't get enough of me, here are all of the feeds that have my name on them. Notice you can follow my Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter accounts as well as the main blog. I wouldn't advice watching all of them, but it will give you an idea of all of the stuff you can keep up with this way.