Ten Uses of RSS

Part 4 of the RSS series: sample uses of RSS with illustrative examples from my experience.

[UPDATE: this is the last of four articles on RSS.]

Even though RSS has been used in many ways, news reading was at the heart of the RSS design and implementation. Since then, just like any good technology, it has taken root in other markets.

Here is a sampling of how RSS is used on the web today. Since RSS is constantly changing, this list will probably look different in a few months—at least for me.

  1. Ecommerce
    Retail web sites can notify consumers of the latest offerings and sales. A typical example is a company like eBay or Amazon that could send you updates on your favorite genre, author, or search term whenever a new product or specially priced item in that category is available. Since RSS can have links and other interactive content, it’s a simple way to market your products and keep customers up-to-date.
  2. Automatic search results
    Online services provide custom search results sent to you via RSS. For instance, as a Chicago area web design company, you can set up a feed to notify you every time the Google Top Ten changes for “chicago web design”.
  3. Project management
    Project managers can update team members of updates to job details, new to-do lists, and milestones. For example, if a group of high school students are working on a paper together online, RSS can be used to notify each student when the paper is updated by another team member.
  4. Event calendars
    Use RSS to update your local calendar from online social networking software. As with many other RSS uses, this one is largely untapped as of yet. I use RSS to update my local machine with web projects milestones from my Basecamp account.
  5. Bookmarks
    Services such as del.icio.us offer RSS feeds for popular tags. I follow a feed for “Neal Stephenson” so that every time a user posts a del.icio.us bookmark with a tag related to Neal Stephenson, I get an update in my RSS reader.
  6. Classified Ads
    Sites such as the wonderful craigslist offer RSS feeds for all of their categories, both big and small. Follow job offerings in your city, or look for RVs for sale (I get feeds for both of those things!).
  7. Photos
    In addition to bookmark feeds, other Social networking services use RSS to send updates. A great example is an online photo gallery called Flickr. Any time a user posts a Flickr photo with a tag of “tucson”, I get a notification with a thumbnail of the photo and link to view it online. It’s a great way to keep up with lots of new photos posted in your area of interest.
  8. Podcasts
    Podcasting relies heavily on subscription services many of which are RSS feeds. Updating and getting the latest audio content for your favorite podcasts is made easy by RSS. An extra plus is the show notes which can get included in the RSS feed as a convenient visual guide to the content.
  9. Package Tracking
    Track your FedEx, UPS, or DHL package with RSS. The way it works: enter the tracking number into your feed reader (such as Bloglines), then you will receive an update every time the tracking information is updated in the carrier’s database. This really beats manually checking the carrier’s site for updates.
  10. News reading
    Whether you are an avid reader of good online content, a writer, or other content producer, RSS can help you either stay on top of new material. Following a large number of blogs is the quintessential use of RSS in my life.

Summary: Though RSS is used in many ways today, blogs and news sites were the early adopters of the technology. This is changing! To see a good diagram of the new RSS usage, check out this blog post on Burning Questions (the FeedBurner blog). The 2005 RSS diagram shows some of the newer RSS uses in comparison to the older 2003 diagram.

Can you think of any other uses that I missed here?

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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