What is RSS?
The letters meant Rich Site Summary originally, but in recent times they have come to mean Really Simple Syndication. A syndicate is a group of individuals or organizations that form together to transact business in a way that is advantageous to all concerned. Most web pages and sites, even those that look simple, are made of numerous components; news feeds, company news, price index updates and blogs. Many readers who visit a site may just want to cherry-pick certain items of news, or read the blog of a favorite columnist. RSS offers the reader ‘feeds’ of news in a format that makes it easy to do this, without the reader having to visit the site. Most news sites utilize XML file formats that allow information to be republished and viewed in a number of different programs. A small orange icon with a ‘broadcast’ symbol upon it identifies the sites that offer the reader these feeds. On most web pages, the icon is placed on the navigation bar alongside the Twitter, Digg and Facebook icons.
Our reader, Sidney is interested in Live Sports magazine, and he presses the RSS icon. A dialogue box appears, inviting him to choose an onscreen reader for his news feed. There are a number of these readers in use. Desktop readers include AmphetaDesk, which is compatible with Windows and Mac computers. Feedreader and NewsGator are compatible with Windows. Online readers include My Yahoo, Bloglines, Dig and others. There are also readers available for mobile phones. These applications are known collectively as syndicated news aggregators. They are free to download and use, requiring simply a registration. In this instance, Sidney has chosen My Yahoo.
The My Yahoo reader displays a message inviting Sidney to make it his own web homepage.
There is a search engine and sign in portal on the navigation bar. On the left of the page is a menu that allows Sidney easy access to his emails, horoscope and share prices. The news area is in the center of the page, with all of the headlines of his news feeds highlighted. Sidney decides to choose another reader. He surfs back to Live Sports and chooses Google Reader. Google offers Sidney the choice of a plain reader page, or a Google homepage with a reader function. Whatever reader Sidney chooses, the RSS feed is about the dispersion of news.
The RSS feed has a number of advantages for both subscriber and publication.
Receiving a feed of news from a publication saves the reader the bother of visiting and revisiting a site in search of news updates. The news feed simply lands in the mailbox or feed reader of the subscriber every time the news is updated. RSS also makes it easier for the reader to receive feeds about the same strand of news across a number of different publications. A columnist who writes for a number of different publications can invite readers to subscribe to feeds of his or her blog, and gather a loyal band of readers in the process. This the way to begin using RSS.