RSS, It's What's for Breakfast!

RSS(Really Simple Syndication) basics and what it can do for you – OR – why a bowl of cereal and RSS is what I start out the day with!

Recently I have had lots of questions about RSS from my parents, clients, and friends. This prompted me to put together several entries here about RSS and news reading on the web. Since most major sites like CNN, NPR, New York Times, and even this site (simpledream web studio’s blog) publish new content through RSS, it is an important technology to know about.

Today, in the first article, I am going to cover the basics for those of you that have heard about RSS, or seen it mentioned online, but do not have a clue what it is.

In brief, these are some benefits of using RSS as an end-user:

  • Allows you to keep track of updates on your favorite web sites without having to constantly visit each site to see if it has changed
  • Good way to gather lots of desirable content in one place
  • No need to go looking for news, blogs, and other content on the web yourself
  • No more long lists of bookmarks in your browser to keep up with your favorite sites

Along with RSS, you will hear the word Subscription (or subscribe) used a lot. This is because in order to take advantage of RSS technology, you have to first subscribe to a news feed from a particular source – usually a web site. That site produces a feed, which is just a fancy name for the files the site publishes to show updated content or changes to a page.

RSS, which stands for “Really Simple Syndication”, is easy to understand and use. Here is how it works:

  1. A web site produces some content, be it an audio program (podcast), newsletter, blog entry, or online article
  2. The web site’s programming scheme turns the content into a nicely formatted outline showing the content and some data to describe the content (date, author’s name, and title of the article, for example)
  3. This outline format is written in a language called XML
  4. RSS is designed to read XML files and therefore enables you, as the recipient, to receive the XML files to your computer or web browser by subscribing to the RSS feed of a web site
  5. While you are sleeping, working, or playing, the feeds of web sites around the world are getting searched, grabbed, and indexed by your RSS reader software
  6. You wake up, turn on your computer, and fire up your desktop or web-based RSS reader
  7. Your news reader shows you the latest RSS feeds that it has gathered from your subscriptions and you can read, delete, and manage them as you wish

Bottom line: you will get notified by RSS when your favorites sites are updated!

Next time I will discuss the differences between online and desktop RSS readers and how to choose the best RSS program for your needs. I will also suggest some popular and easy-to-use RSS readers for you to choose from.

For now, here is more reading on the basics of RSS:
Feedburner, About RSS
Wikipedia Article

Author: Lance Willett

My name is Lance, I am a blogger and web craftsman making high-quality, engaging, and user-centered experiences for people that use WordPress. México-born. Excellence Wrangler at Automattic.

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