What is RSS?

Question

I see “RSS” buttons on lots of websites and when I click the button, I get a bunch of gibberish. What exactly is this for?

-Stan

Answer

This question was answered on August 2, 2006. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

RSS stands for Real Simple Syndication and is an evolving method of content delivery on the Internet

One of the biggest reasons that RSS is gaining popularity from the content side is that it bypasses all the problems associated with broadcasting information via e-mail.

Spam has become such a big problem that lots of legitimate e-mail, especially from sources that broadcast to large groups (newsletters, etc.) are being filtered out by large Internet Service Providers

Many large scale ISPs have taken the stance that anything sent to more than “X” number of their users is automatically labeled as spam and blocked, even though their customer has subscribed to the service.

RSS is a “pull” technology that is controlled by each user instead of the “push” process that causes all of the problems in e-mail distribution.

RSS requires the user to install a small program often referred to as a “feed reader” or “news aggregator” that is then setup to “pull” information from sites on a regular basis.

These readers look very much like popular e-mail programs with sections for topics, feeds and downloads Once you install a reader, it runs in the background and checks all of your desired “feeds” on a scheduled basis (once a day, once an hour or whatever interval you would like the feeds checked).

Think of it as a way to create an online newspaper (maybe not as pretty!) that only displays news and information that falls within your personal areas of interest and automatically updates itself on a regular basis.

When you see the RSS button on your favorite websites, that link is what you would put in your reader if you want to add it to the “watch” list of websites The gibberish you see when you click on the link is what is known as XML (EXtensible Markup Language) which is code used by readers to display your desired information (In most readers, you simply copy and paste the URL from the Address bar into your reader when you are adding a feed.)

As a longtime publisher of a weekly e-mail newsletter, I can tell you that this new distribution model is a welcome change Not a week goes by that we don’t get dozens of e-mails asking why our newsletter is not being sent, when in fact, the problem is with the user’s ISP filtering out anything that gets sent to more than a handful of their users.

There are lots of readers available including new web-based versions from Google and Yahoo as well as built-in readers in many e-mail programs You can find many free programs at sites like Snapfiles.com and Download.com.

If you like the content in this column, all of our tips and tricks, alerts, advice and even podcasts of our radio show are available at feeds.datadoctors.com If you don’t have a reader yet, you can also download a free program that already has all of our feeds pre-loaded that we call our “Digital Dispatch”.

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Author

Posted by Ken of Data Doctors on August 2, 2006