This handy little symbol is used to show that you can sign up to get a feed of the blog you are reading. In plain English: there is software out there (free) that you can get that will notify you when a new article is posted to this blog. Feeds are available on many sites, from news sites to personal blogs. Some retail sites use it to keep their customers notified of when new items arrive. Another term for this is RSS.
What is the benefit? Why do I want it?
Mainly, its a timesaver. You don’t have to hit every one of your favorite sites to see what, if anything, is new. At a glance you can see if there is anything interesting going on. Then you can read the article in your newsreader, or click the link in the reader to go to your favorite site and read the whole article.
How do you get these RSS feeds?
There are a variety of ways.
I’m a fan of Google, and I use iGoogle which allows me to customize my home page on my browser (the page I see when I first open my browser). Which means I can subscribe to a blog via Google and place the RSS feed on my home page. Google also has Google Reader, which you can use instead of the home page.
For those that surf the web using Firefox, there are lots of handy plugins you can easily download and install. (Just avoid the ones with words like validator or editor…those are for developers. Luckily, there is a description by each plugin that will tell you what it is for.)
Or you can download other software if you’re not a fan of Google or Firefox. Someone made a handy list here of their favorite news readers, or head to Download.com or Tucows and see what they have available. I can’t tell you which of those is best since I haven’t worked with any of them. But typically, its just a matter of finding one that works and looks the way you want and that will run on your operating system (such as Windows, Mac, or Linux).
Give RSS a shot. It’s a one-stop smorgasbord of information. Happy reading!