What’s An RSS Feed And Why Do We Need It?

This is a question I am asked regularly so this short article is intended to help explain the concept and relevance of RSS.

If you own or manage a blog for any purpose, an RSS feed is critical if you intend to keep your readers up to date with your latest posts. There are a number of ways your readers can subscribe to your blog but the most common system used is via RSS feed.

So what is RSS?

Simply put it stands for ‘Rich Site Summary’ or it’s often dubbed ‘Really Simple Syndication’. It’s a technology being used by millions of web users around the globe to keep track of their favourite websites. Most consider it a form of news feed that you subscribe to.

In the days prior to RSS if you wanted to keep track of updated information on a website you had to ‘bookmark’ the site in your browser and return regularly to the site to check for changes. The problem was you had to do all the work yourself. If you were tracking numerous sites it could quickly become complicated. It was easy to miss something critical or get stuck in a never-ending loop of revisiting the same information over and over.

RSS Saves the Day!

What we needed was a technology that simply informed us every time a site updated. In practical terms, this is what RSS does. It provides a method of receiving relevant, up-to-date information in quick time after it is published.

In a way it’s like subscribing to a magazine that’s delivered periodically but instead of arriving in your mail it comes directly to your RSS Reader each time your favourite sites are updated. Even the most technically deficient web user can easily get the hang of RSS and make the most of the technology.

How Do I Use RSS?

First up – get an RSS Feed Reader!

There a plenty of free options available with a mix of useful (and useless) features. A simple starting point is Google Reader or Bloglines. Personally I still find Google Reader more than adequate but a simple search will provide a host of alternative options.

I find the readers work a little like email. Unread feeds will appear in bold in a kind of inbox style list. Click on a particular feed and it will provide you with the updated information and usually an option to visit the actual site. When you’re done simply move on to the next feed.

The best way to learn how to use your new feeder is to subscribe to a few feeds and give it a go. The help sections provided will guide you through the process if you get stuck.

There are two ways to locate an RSS feed. First will be on the site you are visiting and secondly from your browser. On site subscriptions typically involve a button or widget and come in many shapes and sizes so just keep an eye out and click to subscribe.

Most web browsers have RSS feeds built in these days. When you visit a site you will likely notice an RSS feed in the right hand side of the address bar where the sites URL is located.

To quickly subscribe all you have to do is click the orange button. Once you do this a few times you will start to see unread items appear in your Feed Reader and you can get underway. You can also unsubscribe at anytime so don’t be afraid to select a few starting options as you can always remove them at a later date.

There’s no security concerns, your email will be kept private and not used for any other purpose than to send your daily updates.

I hope this has helped and that you are now a little more familiar with the RSS technology. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

What Are RSS Feeds

RSS Feeds.

RSS also known as rich site summary or real simply syndication, arrived on the scene a number of years ago, but was only recently embraced by webmasters as a means to effectively syndicate content. RSS Feeds provide webmasters and content providers an avenue to provide concise summaries to prospective readers. Thousands of commercial web sites and blogs now publish content summaries in an RSS feed. Each item in the feed typically contains a headline; article summary and link back to the online article.

Benefit to the Webmaster:

As the web has become more crowded webmasters have been striving to provide fresh and up to date content for their website visitors. Many webmasters have discovered they can easily utilize the information in RSS feeds to provide fresh web content.

RSS feeds are composed in XML, which is a very simple markup language. Similar to HTML, XML uses tags to identify fields. Webmasters can easily parse the RSS feed and dynamically create web pages that contain headlines and summaries. The feeds will continuously update, supplying a steady stream of automatically generated fresh content.

RSS allows webmasters to:

1.) Provide fresh and relevant content on their website, which encourages users to return.

2.) Constantly changing content means that search engine spiders will visit more frequently.

3.) Automate content delivery.

The benefits of RSS feeds are not limited to webmasters, surfers too benefit from the technology as well.

Benefit to Web Surfers:

The beauty of RSS is that readers can quickly scan headlines (titles) and read articles of interest. Because the information is condensed and provided in a single location users can generally review more information in a shorter time frame. Additional information is only a click away. Best of all readers choose the feeds they wish to see, there is no spam with RSS. If you are not completely thrilled with the content appearing in a feed simply remove it from the newsreader. The technology is a pull technology rather than push technology, meaning the content is not forced on the consumers, who pull the content they want to see.

RSS allows for users to:

1.) Easily locate information.

2.) Read condensced information or ‘soundbytes’ with clearly marked and dated topic material.

3.) Classify and categorize information in an easy to navigate manner.

4.) Maximize their time without having to deal with spam.

RSS feeds can be viewed in a news aggregator or reader, which constantly updates and shows unread feeds. I found the functionality of the newsreaders to be similar to a simple email client. Consumers generally enter the URL of any RSS feeds that interest them. Topics with a common theme can be segregated into related groups.

I highly recommend FeedDemon http://www.feeddemon.com by BradSoft as a newsreader. FeedDemon is extremely easy to use and allows for quick scanning and indexing of topics. FeedDemon allows users to quickly scan, sort and scroll through headline and article summaries, while viewing the actual content in a split screen web browser.

Finding Topic Specific Relevant Feeds

In order to find feeds that provide niche information users can search Feedster. Feedster [http://www.feedster.com] is a rapidly growing news search engine that indexes information contained within RSS feeds. Searches for topic specific feeds can be conducted and feeds can be retrieved for syndication.

Benefit to Content Developer

While the benefits to users and webmasters are clear the distribution opportunities made available to content developers should not be overlooked. Information contained in the RSS feed can be easily syndicated, increasing content distribution and reach.

RSS allows for content developers to:

1.) Increase exposure in niche markets.

2.) Communicate with user bases and reach potential customers via an alternate communication method.

3.) Disseminate relevant information.

4.) Define themselves as an industry expert.

5.) Automate content delivery.

RSS has effectively standardized the format for content delivery and has effectively defined the accepted standard for content distribution and syndication. RSS will likely rival email as a means of content distribution in another few years. The shear simplicity makes the technology very appealing.

The distribution potential, while albeit difficult to measure, is still attractive to all parties making the likelihood that RSS popularity will only continue to grow.

RSS Feeds to Try

Feeds exist for almost any topic consider trying these feeds out by entering the url in your feed reader:

Small Business Feed – small business tips and news

http://www.small-business-software.net/blog-feed.xml

Software Marketing Blog Summary – software marketing and online news

http://www.softwaremarketingresource.com/blog-feed.xml

SMS, Wireless Messaging Related News. – news related to telecom, wireless industry and NotePage’s software

http://www.notepage.net/blog-feed.xml

Free Content Articles – collection of free content articles, updates when new article is released.

http://www.small-business-software.net/article-feed.xml

Software Marketing News – news related to software conferences, awards, software development and marketing

http://www.softwaremarketingresource.com/feed.xml