The beauty of feeds is that your favorite blogs, web sites, and even news sites like the BBC will deliver all new content TO you, rather than you having to check to see if they've updated, search for new content, and manually click over to all your favorite sites.
Basically, it's about reading the web made easy for the READER.
The absolute joy of reading by feed is that you can follow 100 blogs by feed reader in the same time it takes to follow 10 blogs by clicking around and constantly checking to see who's updated when.
It's been proven that if you offer a feed, you get more visitors than if you don't. If you offer a full feed, you get more visitors than if you offer a partial feed.
Also, offering a feed makes it easy for your visitors to "stick." If they like you, they click a button, add you to their feed reader, and then they ALWAYS know when you update your site. They always get a reminder when you update your site. Until they delete your feed, they're not going to miss anything you say.
Okay, so long post. I've got a starter on everything feed-related, and even a trick on using a feed to backup your blog, and a trick to reading all your comment conversations via feed!
OFFERING A FEED
I'm fairly certain every visitor here has a feed, and a full feed at that, except two of you. :-) It seems a lot of you are unaware of it, though. :-)
Blogger: Anyone who has a blogger blog can go to Settings -> Site Feed and just turn everything to "Full." Your feed is generally automatically on.
WordPress.com (hosted on their site): Your feed is your blog address with a "/feed/" tacked on the end. I don't know if you can turn it on or off. Here is their guide on feeds.
WordPress.org (installed on your own server): A little more complicated, but they make finding your feed easy here. Click around to find out more. I'm not real familiar with them.
BURNING A FEED
If you want to turn it into a form that's better for the reader, then you "burn" it, and the "feed burner" will keep track of how many subscribers you have and what they use to read your feed. I use FeedBurner, owned by Google.
They also offer an option so your readers can sign up to receive your blog posts via email. (See my sidebar: enter your email, and my posts will be automatically delivered to your Inbox!)
THREE WAYS TO READ FEEDS
A feed reader is almost identical to an email reader. It's just like an Inbox. Just like email, you can read your feeds online or you can download them to your computer. And many email programs let you set up your feeds within your Inbox!
1. Online readers are like online email boxes. The two most popular are Google Reader and Bloglines. If you ever use more than one computer, then this is the way to go; then you can always go online and get your feeds.
Google Reader: I like Google Reader for several reasons. First, it allows you to subdivide your feeds in folders, and it has a catch-all "All Items" button, which allows you to scroll down through all the new blog posts easily.
Mobile Readers: If you have a palm or mobile phone that connects to the internet, Google Reader is the way to go; it has a special formatting when you read from mobile that works great.
Advanced: If you have Firefox and want to get technical, you can install the Better GReader extension for previewing within the reader -- you can even comment within the reader, too. There is also an extension where you can see your GMail box and your GReader side by side in the same window. Can't find it at the moment, though.
Bloglines: I don't know anything about Bloglines, but several of you guys use it, if my stats are correct. Maybe you can chime in and tell us how it works?
2. Desktop readers are like desktop email readers. Desktop readers are great, especially if you're always using only one computer. They're even better if you want to read later, when you're not connected to the Internet.
Outlook & Outlook Express: I found it awkward, but you can import the feeds to your inbox. It's set up in another folder, like a different email address would be, almost.
Thunderbird: If you haven't tried Thunderbird, whatcha waiting for? All email and blog posts delivered to one place, organized just how you like it. It's perfect.
3. Home pages also let you subscribe to feeds. If you have one of those personalized home pages, like My Yahoo! or iGoogle, you can get feeds imported. I hear it's easy, but I don't use home pages.
SUBSCRIBING TO FEEDS
Subscribing is super easy. See up there, at the top, where you type in the internet address? Well, see that little ? Well, that's the feed button. Click on it, and then your browser (I'm not real sure about IE, but Firefox is great) will give you an options of what program to subscribe to the feed with.
Some have the feeds hidden way down in the "Meta Data" as a link called "RSS," and some you have to really dig around to find it.
They're really just a link. Copy and paste the link into your feed reader, or just click it ... most browsers will hook it up to your feed reader automatically.
BACKING UP YOUR BLOG WITH FEEDBURNER
If you burn your feed, then you can get a gmail account and subscribe to your feed via email. Then all your posts go to your gmail account, and you can archive! Voila! Done! And you'll never lose it.
(If Google ever goes out of business, I'm screwed.)
FOLLOWING COMMENTS BY FEED
So if you like to leave comments, and you find yourself clicking back endlessly to see where the conversation went, then there's an easier way!
Kinda Easier: Many comment pages have a "subscribe to comments" feed. If you subscribe, then you can get every single comment delivered to your feed reader. This gets kind of messy, because then you get every single comment ever on the blog.
Kinda Easier II: Many comment pages will let you "subscribe to comments of this post only." That's nice, but then you have to manually subscribe to every conversation you participate in, and then two years later, those feeds are still cluttering your reader.
Easiest: 1) Sign up at http://co.mments.com/. 2) Click Tools/Setting for a little bookmarklet to put in your browser toolbar. 3) On your Tracking Page, click "Subscribe" (upper right corner). It's a feed. 4) When you're on a comment page, just click that bookmarklet (Track co.mments).
And that's it!
Now the rest of the comments will be delivered to your feed reader. No more running back and forth, checking to see if anyone else has responded or added to the conversation!
READING PERSONALIZED NEWS VIA READER
If you dig a little around CNN and BBC and newspaper sites, you can subscribe to certain topics via email and/or feed. Some will filter their content and deliver a feed to your favorite keyword, like "espionage," "spies," "CIA," etc.
Did that make sense? It's harder to explain than it is to do.
If you want to start dabbling, the easiest way is to just sign up for Google Reader and start clicking on that little button in the address bar (then select Google, and then select Google Reader). Pretty soon you'll be a feed pro!
Once you start, you will NEVER look back. Feeds are AWESOME.
Any cool tricks I missed? Anything I got wrong? Any questions? And if you read by feed, what's your favorite way to read?