A quick introduction to RSS

For those new to RSS, here is a gentle introduction. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, and is based on XML. Okay, perhaps it wasn’t that gentle. Let’s start with some background.

Email and the web used to stand at opposite sides of the room. In email, content ‘arrives’ in your inbox. There is no need to go and fetch it, the email reader takes care of that for you. New messages arrive and you are kept up to date.

Web pages, on the other side, sit there, waiting for you to come and visit them. You come, you see, you go. But how do you know if the page has changed or been updated?

There are various services that can tell you if a web page has been updated, but they are not very elegant. They rely on emailing you an updated version of the page, or a notification that there is an update. Either way, it ends up a little clunky, as this is not what email clients were originally designed for. For news sites and other frequently updated content a more elegant solution was needed. News providers often want to syndicate their content, to distribute it out to multiple channels. Thus the requirement for a simple way to syndicate content out to lots of ‘watchers’ – an electronic news feed.

RSS was just that. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, and it is based on XML technology. XML is an extensible mark up language used across the Internet, and in many new business applications. It is standards-based and software friendly, enabling many different applications to take advantage of its features.

An RSS feed provides a listing of articles in a way that can easily be fed into different software applications. Initially this was used to feed news from one site to another, but now you can have your very own feed reader to directly read new articles from sites that you want to watch.

The latest version of Microsoft’s Outlook email client directly supports reading RSS feeds. There are also great web-based RSS reading services, such as Google Reader and Bloglines. You can find a guided tour of the Google Reader here. Most of the latest web browsers, such as Internet Explore, Safari and Firefox, also have support for RSS.

RSS is denoted on web pages by this little icon RSS, which also appears in the address bar of your browser for sites and browsers that support RSS. For most modern web browsers, just clicking on this icon will ‘subscribe’ you to that RSS Feed. You will now automatically be kept up to date with new articles.

Blogs, or web logs, like this one consist of periodic ‘posts’ or articles and this makes them perfect for monitoring via RSS. You simply fire up your reader of choice, which then checks the RSS feeds of all the sites you are following. At a glance you can see if there are new posts for you to read. This enables you to keep up to date with hundreds of different information sources in a very efficient way. You no longer have to keep going back to sites to see if they have been updated. The RSS reader provides your very own ‘inbox’ from your customized set of web sites and blogs on the web.

you can get started right now, the software you need is probably already installed on your machine. It is as simple as clicking here. RSS. If you get stuck, just drop us an email and we’ll help.