What is RSS?
I’ve got to confess that when I first came across this RSS stuff, I had no cotton picking idea what it was for and how to use it. Of course I pretended to others I knew everything about it just to save face, but I know I could have done with someone walking me through and explaining what’s what and how to use RSS.
for those who are in the position I was in , I just thought it would be useful to share what I learnt and make it easier for many others to use RSS effectively.
I started by looking at the wikipaedia definitions of the terms normally bandied about. Check out what wiki says about RSS, XML, web feed and web syndication. This might be a good place for you to start.
In a nutshell – you use RSS (Really Simple Syndication) to syndicate or subscribe to the feed of a website, blog or almost any media content online (not just articles, it can be music, video or almost any digital media). By syndicating you subscribe to the feed of the site.
This means you don’t have to go gallivanting around from website to website to read the latest content. Instead you use feed reading software or a website to read the latest articles. Instead of going to each of your favourite sites individually you can collect all the feeds of the sites (provided they make them available) in one place.
The purpose of syndication is to make it more efficient for you to consume your favourite content.
If you’re a certified technophobe you don’t need to know much about XML. It’s basically the formatting language that software and websites use to distribute the content to your feed reader. If you know nothing about HTML then
you probably don’t really need to know much about XML either. Just understand that behind syndication is the language XML.
How you can read RSS content
There are two main ways you can read content drawn automatically from different sites using RSS. Many people use dedicated RSS reading software, but I find that this has the disadvantage that you can only use it on the machine it’s installed on.
I personally use Google reader and I’m able to access all my syndicated material from any computer with an internet connection. Try it out for yourself and see how it works – or if you’re comfortable with other ways of reading, stick to them.
You could do a Google search for RSS readers and there’s literally a truck load of them out there. I suspect though, that Google will encourage you to use their reader.
Subscribing to a blog
If we use this blog as an example, at the top right corner you will see an orange RSS link button. To subscribe to my feed all you do is copy and paste that link into feed reading software or a web based reader like bloglines. If you’re using Google reader, the reader will prompt you to subscribe when you click on the RSS button.
You may also have to name the feed just as a way to identify it among your other feeds.
The RSS feed link for this site looks like this – http://feeds.feedburner.com/stonecoldarsenal – and if you click it you will get the output of this blog. Take a look by clicking the link if you are interested. Note that I use a special third party service called FeedBurner that adds extra features to my feed output and most importantly it provides me with statistics on how many people subscribe to my blog.
All blogs will have a link which you can subscribe to. It might be called Atom, or RSS, or simply Syndicate, but they all do the same thing. The reason there are so many names is because there are different standards to create web syndication services (much like the old BETA vs VHS video format competition). At the moment it appears that RSS is certainly winning the standards war so you will mostly see the orange RSS links everywhere.
Syndication is for More than Just Blogs
Blogs certainly started the syndication madness but it is well and truly breaking out now. I wouldn’t call it mainstream just yet since not many people know how to use it but most of the big web companies are making subscription feeds available for almost any content. Chances are if you are reading an article from a big site you can subscribe to a feed that distributes those articles. Just look for that RSS symbol.
Besides article distribution, a new craze has launched called Podcasting. I’m not going to go into Podcasting here. For the purposes of understanding how Podcasting is related to syndication all you need to know is that a Podcast is an audio show, like radio but usually focused on voice because music is copyrighted. Unless you have the rights to the music
you may get into trouble if you broadcast it in a podcast. People use syndication to subscribe to a Podcast audio show which they can listen to on their computer or download to an mp3 player.
RSS is designed to make your Internet life easier. At the moment it’s worthwhile to become familiar with this technology simply because you are going to be seeing a lot more of it. If you can keep abreast of the technology wave you will have less frustration when using the Internet.