Yesterday I was chatting with one of my younger sisters and walking her through this blog. While going through the homepage, she noticed a link saying “Subscribe Posts“. She was clueless about it. I, then, went ahead and explained to her all the nitty-gritty details of RSS – what are RSS feeds, how to subscribe to feeds, what are the benefits of RSS, where to view feeds and so on. It was like a wake up moment for me. Since I knew how RSS works, I assumed she must be knowing about it and then realized how wrong I was. Now the same can be the case with any of you folks and so I decided to write a post exclusively on RSS . If you already know, you can skip reading this post entirely, but if you don’t and want to know what the heck RSS is, stay along.
What The Heck Is RSS?
RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication (or Rich Site Summary). Does that sound a bit technical? Okay. Let’s put it in simple terms. What RSS does is, it collates the content of a website, let’s say headlines, posts, videos, comments or virtually anything that is part of website’s content, and make it available to the reader in a standard format. Consider RSS as television set where you get constant real-time updates about anything happening on the web. The only thing is that it will show you updates for the websites you subscribed to. So, in our analogy, you can think of websites as various television channels where you get updates related to that particular channel. The updates may be a short summary where you can view detailed article by visiting the original site or complete article itself. It depends on how website has set it’s RSS feed to be published.
How Does It Work?
RSS works on publisher-subscriber model where publisher is website and subscriber is end user i.e. reader. Below is the simplified view of the RSS model:
The website creates an xml file which contains the aggregated contents of the site. There are various sites available freely, such as Feedburner from Google which can help site owner create an RSS feed for his/her website without much fuss. As a reader you can then just subscribe to the feeds and have the contents of the website at your fingertip. But how do I see those feeds? It’s pretty easy. There are tools called “RSS readers” which can read the XML file published by the site you subscribed to and make the contents of that site available on your machine. These tools are either stand alone i.e. you need to install them on your machine such as MS Office Outlook or web-based like Google Reader which lets you manage your subscriptions if you have Google account.
How Do I Subscribe?
Good question. It’s pretty simple, let’s go step by step:
- On any website or blog which publishes the content as RSS feed, you will see an icon like this.
- When you click on this icon, it will take you to feed publisher site (for example, FeedBurner) and show you bunch of icons like below:
These icons represent web-based RSS readers. You can select any of the reader based on your preference, say, Google Reader (That’s the one I use).
- Once you click on Google Reader icon, you will get a page asking where to show the subscribed feed updates. Select “Add to Google Reader” button.
That’s it! You just now subscribed to the RSS feed successfully in 3 simple steps. Now you can open Google Reader website anytime using your Google user name and password and you will see the latest contents from all the websites you subscribed without ever going anywhere. Isn’t that cool?
What are the benefits?
There are some very interesting benefits with RSS technology:
- A publisher can reach out to wider range of audience since anybody can subscribe to his/her feeds
- There is little or no effort involved to give your feed mass appeal
- A reader can choose to subscribe or unsubscribe from site of his choice at any time
- A reader can view aggregated content from different sources at single place
- A reader gets real-time (or near real-time) content at his/her disposal
- It’s FREE!
I hope you got the whole picture about RSS. I didn’t want to clutter your mind with all the complex technical mumbo-jumbo and wanted to have it as simple as possible. If you want to learn more on this, check out the below links:
- What Is RSS? RSS Explained – This site provides a comprehensive introduction on RSS. It also provides some additional links on RSS resources.
- Wikipedia – Definitely one of the best starting point on any topic. Do check it out for history of RSS and RSS versions.
- Official RSS website – If you are interested in the technical tidbits of RSS, this is the best place to visit.
Let me know how do you like this post by leaving your valuable comments below. Keep geeking!