A feed aggregator is a software that collates syndicated content called RSS feed. That is a machine readable file that reports parts or all the content of a page. When available, a special icon usually appears somewhere on the page or on the browser's url field. If you click on that icon you'll be taken to the Url of the Rss feed. The page appears as scrambled text. It is in reality an XML representation of the page you were looking at. You can grab that Url and paste into a feed aggregator such as Google Reader.
The feed aggregator will start polling that Url and will prompt you when the page is updated.
The initial effort of copying and pasting that link soon pays off: you don't have to go and visit web sites you follow regularly in order to check updates. The updates come to you soon after they're published via the feed reader.
That way I've been able to monitor much more interesting stuff than I could have done by hand.
Not all Rss feeds reports the whole content of the page is linked to. Often news sites provide just an excerpt from their stories and a link back to the stories themselves. That's for obvious reasons: generating traffic to their ad hosting pages, fair enough.
Not all syndicated content is interesting or original. A lot of times, the same news comes from different sources. That's where Google Reader's Key Shortcuts are really useful.
If you click '?' on Google Reader, a list of those shortcuts will appear.
The ones I use a lot are:
- g+a: go to new posts
- n: skip to the next post
At a certain point it may become too much, with hundreds of new feeds being collected every day. It's then time to decide what sites is worth following and what's not.
Google Reader, being web based, has a series of advantages with respect to stand-alone readers:
it's connected to your gmail or google apps account, so it's always updated and available wherever you connect from. That's useful when you follow a mix of work and personal sites
you can search across your subscriptions to find interesting stuff you've read before
with time you build a profile of what you're interested in and Google Reader can suggest you sources you might be interested in.
But there's another neat feature. Google Reader allows you track changes ofany web page, even those that don't offer Rss! If you enter the location of a page without Rss, Reader will start polling that page and over time it will automatically build a summary of changes.