Friday, September 4, 2009

What is RSS? A Brief Overview.

Really, REALLY BIG RSS feed buttonImage by HiMY SYeD / photopia via Flickr
What is RSS? I get that question often and I think it is time we talk about it.

RSS is short for Really Simple Syndication. For many, this means nothing. So, to explain, let us look at a common scenario.

If you have spent any length of time on the Internet, then you must have at least one or two favorite web sites. Outside ones e-mail account, I find many people like to visit news sites like CNN, Fox News, or a local newspaper. On any given day, you may stop on the site, read a few articles, and then go about your business. Sounds easy enough, right?

Well, what happens when you find a dozen or so sites that offer interesting news or funny content? The first thing one must do is remember to visit the site on a regular basis. This is not a problem when you go to one spot, but with more sites comes more to remember.

Another common occurrence is the failure of one or two sites to update their news. Take a blog for example, the author may only write twice a week. Instead of trying to guess when the site will receive an update, wouldn't it be nice to simply receive a notice when they have? Enter RSS.

With RSS, you can visit one of your favorite web sites and subscribe to it. This means you will receive an update from the site only when the author writes something. With RSS in place, you no longer have to guess when something new has arrived because it will come to you automatically. How does that sound? Cool, I hope.

To use some of the RSS lingo, we call automatic updates "Feeds." Have you ever heard that term before? I know that I have said something like, "I just went by some web site and subscribed to their feed." Basically what I am saying is that when the site is updated, I will receive a notice.

How will I receive a notice?
If I said, "via e-mail," then you would immediately turn to your Gmail, Yahoo, MSN, or Outlook, right? Well, to read RSS feeds, you turn to something like Google Reader, which is basically an inbox for feeds.

How do I subscribe to a feed?
The easiest way to subscribe to a RSS feed is by clicking on the little orange icon shown above. This icon can be found all across the Internet on most blog and news sites.

When clicked, your browser will load a page that lists a number of current stories or blog entries. At the top of this screen, you should see an option to select your RSS feed reader. In our case, we choose Google Reader.

Once selected, Google Reader will load a similar page and ask you to subscribe by clicking on the "Subscribe" button (see below).

After you successfully subscribe to the feed, you will visit Google Reader like you do your email account. Anytime a favorite web site updates its page, you will see all of the new items listed in descending order. To read an article or blog, simply click on the title of the document within Google Reader and enjoy.

Please note that some feeds only show a title and brief description, while other feeds show the title and the complete story. In the case that you can only see a summary with a link to "Read More". To read the entire article, you may have to click the link and read the story on the original site. However, more and more web sites allow Google Reader to show everything. In this case, you never have to leave Google Reader.

That's all for now. I hope this was helpful. If there is anything else I can do to help you better understand RSS or other web technologies, please let me know.

Until next time...


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Damond L. Nollan, M.B.A.

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