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What is RSS?

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication

In a world heaving under the weight of billions of web pages, keeping up to date with the information you want can be difficult.

Wouldn't it be better to have the latest news and features delivered directly to you, rather than clicking from site to site?

RSS allows you to see when sites from all over the internet have added new content. You can get the latest headlines and articles (or even audio files, photographs or video) in one place, as soon as they are published, without having to remember to visit each site every day.

It takes the hassle out of staying up-to-date, by showing you the very latest information that you are interested in.

RSS was first developed in 1999 by Netscape, the RSS acronym has had a number of meanings, but today has come to be aptly defined as Really Simple Syndication. RSS is based on XML (eXtensible Markup Language), the specialized Web page language that provides structured data to Internet-based applications. If you looked at an XML file with your browser, it would look like raw code, but when viewed through other programs it provides the basis for a variety of information that flows across the Web.

Not all websites currently provide RSS, but it is growing rapidly in popularity and many others, including the Guardian, New York Times and CNN provide it.

How do I start using RSS feeds?

In general, the first thing you need is something called a News Reader. This is a piece of software that checks RSS Feeds and lets you read any new articles that have been added to them. There are many different versions, some of which are accessed using a browser, and some of which are downloadable applications. Browser-based news readers let you catch up with your RSS feed subscriptions from any computer, whereas downloadable applications let you store them on your main computer, in the same way that you either download your e-mail using Outlook, or keep it on a web-based service like Webmail.

Once you have chosen a news reader, all you have to do is to decide what content you want to receive in your news reader, by finding and subscribing to the relevant RSS feeds. For example, if you would like the latest BBC News Entertainment stories, simply visit the Entertainment section and you will notice an orange RSS button.

If you click on the RSS button  you can subscribe to the feed in various ways, including by dragging the URL of the RSS feed into your news reader or by cutting and pasting the same URL into a new feed in your news reader. Most sites that offer RSS feeds use a similar orange RSS button, but some may just have a normal web link to the feed.

Some browsers, including Firefox, automatically check for RSS feeds for you when you visit a website, and display an icon when they find one. This can make subscribing to RSS feeds much easier.

RSS Circumvents Spam

RSS is spam-proof!

Only the feed publisher can designate what information gets into the feed, and the only information the subscriber downloads is what the publisher intended.

This is a huge deal, especially for people who currently publish or subscribe to e-mail announcement services. Spam has become so pervasive that up to 38% of all opt-in e-mail messages can get blocked by spam filters.


One of the best things about RSS is that you can use it to note any kind of new item such as new cartoons, articles, essays, pictures, posts, documents, even new astronomical events and new RSS files.

Who uses RSS?

RSS has gained in popularity especially with publishers and users. For publishers, RSS is a way to present structured information. For users, RSS is a tool for getting content where, when and how they want it.

Webmasters using RSS are seeing increased traffic to their sites. With RSS, they now have the ability to gather and distribute news in a more timely fashion.

Technicians have been using RSS programs for quite some time. These programs are now becoming available to the masses on PC, Mac and cross platforms.

How does RSS work?

Instead of your searching the Internet for information, RSS brings it right to your computer, in the format that you desire, where, when and how you want it.

You typically download and install an RSS newsreader or aggregator, then subscribe to your favorite websites from a directory list of thousands. Among the choices are the BBC, New York Times, CNet, Salon, ESPN, InfoWorld, The Christian Science Monitor, just to name a few.

When you sign on, you will see the most recent updates for each channel where you subscribed. Once you are signed on, you will see headlines, a summary, and sometimes the entire story and a photo or two. You can even click on a link and delve further into the site and go to the original source.

What's next for RSS?

Even though RSS continues to grow in popularity, it won't make Web browsing obsolete. It does give news organizations another way of reaching tech-savvy audiences as well as newshounds a wider net for the news.

We may even see innovations in the way marketing and public relations executives use RSS to reach their audiences.


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