The following is an explanation about feeds, written by Chetan who granted me permission to make a copy:
If you’re new to Feed subscription
You’re familiar with e-mail, right? You read it as you receive it. Well, feeds are similar in analogy. For receiving and reading your email, you’d either need a software client (like Outlook Express, Outlook, Eudora or others) or a service (such as Hotmail, Yahoo!Mail, Gmail or others). Similarly, for reading site feeds, you’ll need a feed software (like FeedReader, FeedDemon, NetNewsWire, Newsgator or Sage extension for Firefox) or a service (such as Bloglines, My Yahoo!, Newsgator Online, Newsburst or Kinja online).
All these software (or services) will have an option to add new feed. Click on it (or select), cut and paste the feed link from the above list and your software or service will query the site for new posts and sync it in your client. So, actually you’re letting your software or service pull the latest posts, news from websites for you. Simple, eh?
If you read a lot of websites in the conventional way, i.e., via a web browser (like Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox or Safari), then change that habit, let your software (or service) notify you of new things instead of you checking them out everyday. That way, you save precious time and also read more content rather than just browsing.
With blogs and sites that get updated often, including your favorite newspapers, feeds are becoming a standard method of offering content to their readers without requiring any details from the readers like their email addresses.
What are those colored buttons that I see on websites?
You mean those orange or those blue ones? Yup, those are the feed links. And don’t worry about the color or XML, RSS, Atom, RDF written over them. XML is the technology feeds use to provide you the updated content and all those terms are the derivatives of this technology. Some clients don’t support all types of feeds, in which case, you may try the alternative feed, if available. Generally, most clients (software or service) provide a minimum RSS and Atom support.
Feed links spit out junk code
A common phenomenon that I’ve been a victim of, before I understood how feeds work. Feed links are not meant to be actually clicked. Since the code that you actually see is a machine readable language and is really meant for your software to sync and interpret it for you. So, the next time you see feed links, copy them instead of clicking on them and use them in your feed reader software (or web based feed service).
What software, service do you recommend?
FeedDemon is my favorite feed reader software and I have raves for it, but that doesn’t mean that others aren’t good, especially if you’re looking for something free to start with (I started with FeedReader myself and still use Mozilla Firefox’s Sage extension). Among the web-based feed-services, I like Bloglines.
I can read the feed, but it looks so pale compared to the website
Well, look at it this way: if the content is more important to you and you want to read the updates regularly, then consider the feed. If instead, you love reading them on the website in its full graphical glory, you could always use the article link and open it in your web browser, but keep yourself automatically updated via a feed reader. Sounds fun? Thought so.
Any other advantages of using a feed, besides updates?
Well, the speed for one. If you’re on a dial-up network, you’ll appreciate the download time. All the posts on certain clients are actually downloaded and saved as cache, so you could read them offline too (just like your e-mail). In addition, you’ll also be doing site owners a favor by reading their content via feed that has lesser bandwidth requirement.