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RSS: explained

These days, there are so many websites out there that have little orange boxes on their sites that say RSS, Atom, or XML. Many people get confused by them and wonder what they’re used for. It’s a fairly new form of technology to keep up-to-date with website content. RSS and Atom are two separate forms of “feeds” built on XML technology. The earliest form of RSS stood for RDF Site Summary. The n, it stood for Rich Site Summary. The latest version of RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. When a website updates — for example, this blog — the XML-based feed file gets updated with the new content of the site. This file contains the date and time of the update, the title of the topic and the actual content. It is all stored in an XML file. RSS and Atom are just two different types of this technology, but both are very similar and are an extension of XML.

So what’s it good for?

Feeds are good for keeping up-to-date with frequently read websites. Websites that provide content feeds have a special feed URL. You can enter this into a “feed reader” or “aggregator” which will pull in the content and display it to you. Feed readers are good beause you can read the content of a bunch of different websites in one central place. I use a homepage portal, Netvibes, to read feeds from my favorite websites. Below is a picture of two feeds from my homepage.

feeds.jpg (click image to enlarge)
The above screenshot shows two different feeds, TechCrunch and Slashdot. The bold entries are new, unread entries. The number next to the feed name indicates the number of new entries on the respective website. As you can see, feeds are a great way to get a lot of content in one central location. Now you don’t have to visit a bunch of sites to see if they have any updates. Now the updates come to you, and you can actually read the updates right there.

Browsers like Mozilla Firefox and the new Microsoft Internet Explorer 7 have feed-reading capabilities built into them. In the latest version of Firefox (currently 1.5), if a website provides a feed, it will have a little orange box in the top right corner that looks like:


If you click that box, you can add the feed to your bookmarks. Once you do that, you can navigate to it in your bookmarks and the feed will expand and list the topics like such:

ff-feed.jpg (click image to enlarge)

Now that you understand RSS, you can subscribe to my RSS feed to stay in-tune with my blog.


More information on RSS/Atom/XML:

Wikipedia RSS entry
mezzoblue explanation What Is RSS

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