Are You RSSing?

RSS is really simple. No, really. RSS means Really Simple Syndication, and it's revolutionizing how we – users of the internet – browse. If you've heard of this, or haven't heard of this, here's a summary of several conversations I've had about RSS in the recent past that should get you all up to speed:

"Revolutionary? Yeah, we've heard that before."
I know, I know. You've heard this song and dance before, but this time it's real. I've written about this before, but it's becoming more and more popular now, and it's time for you to adopt this technology.

"So how is it revolutionary this time?"
Easy. It's turning the internet into a "push" medium rather than a "pull."

Okay, rather than users having to constantly seek their information ("pulling" what they want to see), RSS allows users to essentially subscribe to the content they want. Whenever that content is published, the content is "pushed" to them.

"What do you mean pushed?"
RSS is a dialect of XML. When database-driven sites* (news sites, message boards, blogs, etc.) publish information, an XML file can also be created/updated to contain a brief summary of the information just published. This XML file, or the RSS feed, is what you "subscribe" to. Every time the XML file is updated, you're notified of the new content.

"You lost me as soon as you said XML."
Right. You don't really need to understand what XML is. The XML file looks a lot like HTML and contains data about the information that was published by the site. If you look at the XML feed for CNN's Top Stories, you'll notice that the first item entry will correspond with the first headline you see on CNN.com. So, every time that CNN adds a new story to their site, the XML is also automatically updated.

"Interesting... So???"
Sooooo, for example, say you like to read CNN's headlines a few times a day. Well, instead of being served all the extraneous crud you don't care about (popups, other advertising, other stories, etc.) with an RSS Aggregator all you see is the most current CNN headlines.

"Oh c'mon... what's an Aggregator?
An Aggregator (or RSS Reader) is a program that helps you organize all of your RSS feeds. The Aggregator stores all of your feeds and updates them based on the time frame you specify. Aggregators provide you access to all of the same content that the web site would give you, without all the pizazz – which is good because internet users are information seekers, we're not watching television.

To further the example above, if you left your Aggregator going all day, it would collect all of the headlines CNN posted throughout the day. You browse the headlines, delete the ones you don't care about, and click to read the full context of the ones you ARE interested in. You control what you want to see, not the other way around. So, really, RSS is making the internet a "tailored push."

Most Aggregators look, and organize RSS feeds, like common email applications. Some RSS Readers can be added into your browser. And some are even built-in to the browser, like Mozilla's Live Bookmarks and Safari RSS.

"Cool! Can I have more than one feed?"
Of course! You can have as few as one, and as many as, well, as many as the program can support... I guess. I subscribe to 13 feeds at work, and I usually add a new one each week.

"How do I find RSS Feeds?"
Great question. Sometimes they're very super easy to find, and other times they're kinda hard to find. Here are some ways:

"I found one I want to subscribe to, now what?"
Alright, this is one of the easiest parts. Say you want to subscribe to CNN's Top Stories (click on this link). In the Address Bar of your browser, you'll see this URL: http://rss.cnn.com/rss/cnn_topstories.rss. Highlight it all, copy it, and paste it into your Aggregator's Address Bar (most Aggregators work similarly). There might be an extra step, like clicking a "Subscribe" button, but that's about all you do. Oh, make sure you go through your preferences to specify how often you want your feeds checked, when things should be deleted, etc.

"What do you use as your Aggregator?"
When I'm at work, I use SharpReader. I haven't tried too many others for the PC, but this one is consistently ranked pretty high. One thing I don't like about it is when you delete something, it's gone, no coming back. But, it's free, so I can't complain.

When I'm at home, I use PulpFiction Lite. There are several different RSS Readers for the Mac, but this one is free and does exactly what I need it to. The full version of PulpFiction has more features, but it costs money.

"Okay Mr. Smarty-Pants, where's Your RSS Feed?"
Currently, I only have mine hooked up so that if you have a Mozilla-based browser, you're notified. If you'd like to subscribe to my blog (are you insane???), then here's the URL.

Here's something else that's funny... if you use Blogger for your blogging engine, then you probably have an RSS (or Atom) Feed already – especially if your stuff is hosted on Blogspot. To find it, just go to your address and add "atom.xml" to the end of the line and press 'enter.'

"I understand RSS, but what is Atom?"
For this discussion, Atom is essentially the same thing as RSS, except it's not RSS. It does the same thing that an RSS Feed does and most Aggregators can accept both. So, if a site doesn't have an RSS Feed, but has an Atom feed, give it a whirl and it should work.

If you want to find out more in depth about Atom vs RSS, then, please do so on your own time.

"Anything else?"
Not that I can think of, for now... though I'm sure there might be plenty of questions and comments, aaaaaaaand I probably left something out somewhere. If you do have questions, just let me know and I'll help out the best I can. Have fun!!!

* Sites do not have to be database-driven to have RSS feeds, but I believe a majority of them are.

+ original post date: February 10, 2005 01:06 PM
+ categories: Web Stuff


(comments rss feed)

I am RSS-ing, and am seriously addicted to it. Thanks for the tips on how to find sites with RSS feeds...I actually found some feeds on sites I didn't think had them (MSNBC and CNN).

Firefox (and RSS) have seriously changed the way I use the internet. At work, I have to use Wal*Mart's Retaillink, a web-based tool. Unfortunately, it's built to be used with IE. When I use IE anymore, I cringe at the appearance and functionality.

+ author: Nelson
+ posted: June 25, 2005 09:32 AM

Is RSS yesterday's news. Probably for geeks like me, but almost no one I know who is a casual Internet user is taking advantage of RSS.

At least for the next 5 minutes, surfing is soooo 2004.


+ author: MurDog
+ posted: June 25, 2005 09:32 AM

Blah, blah, nerd, nerd, blah . . .

+ author: Anonymous
+ posted: June 25, 2005 09:32 AM

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