What is RSS?

RSS, or Really Simple Syndication, is a way to get Web content (articles, images, audio, video, etc.) without having to visit the Web site that generates it. It’s a way to make content come to you instead of you coming to it.

The main benefit of RSS is that you can enjoy the Web on your own schedule; you don’t have to check and recheck your favorite Web sites for new content or worry that you’ll miss something that scrolls off the main page. Whether a site adds new content ten times a day or once a month, RSS will keep you updated.

How It Works

RSS is like email, except you don’t receive deliveries in your inbox; you get them in what’s called an RSS reader. Just like you can read email either through software installed on your computer (like Outlook Express) or on a Web site (like mail.google.com), you can read Web site content through software (like FeedDemon) or on a Web site (like www.google.com/reader www.digg.com/reader). There are many readers from which to choose (I use Google Reader Digg Reader).

In RSS parlance, you subscribe to an RSS feed. Most Web sites offer at least one feed. Many sites offer multiple feeds — one per category. A news site, for example, would have feeds for business news, sports, weather, etc.

To subscribe to an RSS feed, go to a Web site and click on the orange button (for example, RSS feed icon) or the letters RSS. You are usually given a choice of readers to which content can be sent — pick yours from the list. No personal information, like your name or email address, is collected. There is no fee.

When you subscribe to an RSS feed you will usually get the ten or so most recent entries delivered to you immediately. From that point on, you will be sent anything new as it’s posted to the Web site. You can subscribe to as many feeds as you like; the reader will aggregate them for you.

RSS by email

Some Web sites offer a variation on RSS where you can get content delivered by email (of course you must supply your email address in this case). There is no real standard for this, but look for a variation on the orange button (for example, Email feed icon).

Other Benefits

The more Web sites you would otherwise visit, the more time you will save using RSS. You can use that time to become more widely read. (I’ve had up to 80 subscriptions at once — there’s no way I could visit 80 Web sites on a regular basis!)

You may also like the uniformity of the content as presented in your reader. This is good for sites that violate all the basic rules of typography — you know, the ones that burn your eyes with yellow text on a purple background. Your reader will present those as black text on a white background, making an otherwise unreadable site readable.

You don’t have to read the content from within your reader. In fact, sometimes you cant; some content comes in only as excerpts. You always have the option of launching the original site from your reader. You could choose to read all your content at the originating Web sites, in which case RSS is serving only as a notification mechanism. You wouldn’t be reading as efficiently, but at least you could get that yellow on purple look you so desire 🙂 .


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