rss.pngRSS is one of the Web 2.0 technologies most widely used and yet, least understood. To add to confusion RSS, while providing a similar functionality can mean different things. Dan Libby developed original RSS (RDF Site Summary RSS 0.9) for Netscape and after a couple of months, produced a simpler and easier-to-use version called Rich Site Summary or RSS 0.91. Later in 2005, Microsoft developed Really Simple Syndication in relation to its Simple Sharing Extensions.

Today, RSS stands for ‘Really Simple Syndication’, and it has the following 7 existing formats or versions: 0.90, 0.91, 0.92, 0.93, 0.94, 1.0, 2.0 and lets not forget the Atom format created to address all the short comings and incompatibilities of the multiple RSS versions. But we will make this simple…

What is RSS?

RSS is a XML file format for syndicating content and news in the web. It is widely used by websites that need to update their content regularly such as news websites (CNN, BBC and Reuters) and weblogs. As RSS has gained popularity it is now widely used by many sites but since blogs come with RSS built it, it make out work a lot easier.

How does RSS work?

There are 2 components that are required to make RSS works and without going too deep into technicalities we will call them:

  • RSS Source, which could be a blog, news site, online store, forum or any other site that has an RSS compatible feed
  • RSS Aggregator or what is more commonly known RSS reader.

RSS Source

RSS – or what is now known as “Really Simple Syndication” – is a file format that allows for ‘web syndication’, making content available in a format that can be universally understood by other people. In essence, RSS is a ‘mini database’ that contains headlines and descriptions (a summary or a line or two of the full article) of web content, including hyperlinks.

RSS websites – that is, websites that contain RSS ‘feeds’ (articles or postings) – typically have colorful graphics to indicate to users that the specific web content is available through RSS feeds. These graphics are usually depicted by orange rectangles that are usually marked with ‘RSS’ or ‘XML’. Majority of the blogs built on modern platforms such as WordPress will have an RSS feed available for your convenience.

RSS Readers

Once you locate a news source that you would like to be able to read on regular bases you will need an RSS Reader. RSS Readers were created to automatically find and retrieve the RSS feeds of pre-selected Internet sites on your behalf and organize the results accordingly.

Once you locate that nice orange button representing RSS feed on the source site you can simply click on it to add to your favorite RSS Reader or Aggregator. From that point on you don’t have to access the website to see if there is any new content available as all changes will be automatically delivered to you but we will talk about benefits a bit later because right now we need to discuss…

Types Of RSS Readers

RSS Aggregators come in two types: the downloadable program or desktop-type and the online or web-based type. With popularity of technology there are many options available to you as many email clients now include RSS reader as well as a huge choice of web based RSS readers.

I personally prefer to use web based as it gives me my custom content no matter what computer I use to login into my account. While there are many options available I can highly recommend you try Bloglines or Google Reader as both are free and provide you with multitude of choices.

What are the benefits of RSS?

RSS technology is beneficial to both the publishers and readers and when used properly can be a great vessel for content delivery and ultimate time saver. Here are just a few of the main benefits:

  • It gives you the latest updates. Whether it is about the weather, new music, software upgrade, local news, or a new posting from a rarely-updates site learn about the latest as soon as it comes out.
  • It saves on surfing time. Since an RSS feed provides a summary of the article or what becomes even more popular – Full text Feed as provided by this blog, it saves you time by having an easy access from one convenient location. You can scan many feeds and dedicate time only to articles that interest you without the need to visit originating site or blog.
  • It gives the power of subscription to you. You are given a free hand on which websites to subscribe in your RSS Reader, which you can change at any time.
  • RSS is spam free. Unlike email subscriptions, RSS does not make use of your email address to send updates thus your privacy is kept safe from spam mails.
  • Unsubscribing from RSS feed is hassle-free. You have full control as to which RSS feeds you want to reed and you have no obligation whatsoever. Once you decide that a specific feed doesn’t provide you with quality information that made you to subscribe in the first place – all you have to do is delete the feed or hit unsubscribe button in your reader.
  • RSS can be used as an advertising or marketing tool. Users who subscribe or syndicate product websites receive the latest news on products and services without the website sending spam mail. This is advantageous to both the web user and the website owner since advertising becomes targeted; those who are actually interested in their products are kept posted. It is also becomes common to add small and targeted ads to the end of each article in RSS feed that get a higher click through since people who subscribe to feed are genuinely interested in this type of information.

As you can see RSS is quite a handful even when looked at from a very basic perspective but here are the most important points of this article:

  1. RSS requires 2 components to work: a site that publishes RSS feed and a Reader capable of reading that file and deliver you timely content.
  2. Sites that provide RSS feed generally advertise it by having bright orange RSS button and while a short RSS was popular I recommend you subscribe to feeds that provide a full article text to get the full benefit. This blog provides a Full Text RSS Feed.
  3. To read RSS feeds you need RSS Reader – I recommend either Bloglines or Google Reader as both are free and feature rich. Also as well-established services you are guaranteed to have a service for years to come and don’t have to worry about it disappearing and you would have to recreate the information on new platform. Web based RSS readers also provide you with ability to have access to your favorite news from anywhere in the world – not just your desktop.
  4. Once you locate the blog or site whose content you find interesting, simply click RSS or XML button and subscribe with your reader to enjoy the timesavings and spam free content.

Obviously this article couldn’t cover ALL aspects of RSS and I’ll be talking about promoting your blog with RSS in a next article. So if you like this one – make sure not to miss the update and subscribe to RSS using options available.