What is RSS?

Seen these around? Wondering what they're all about?

RSS actually stands for ‘really simple syndication’, and it’s really nothing more than a way for a website to send you information. Let’s start with the basics…

I think the easiest way to think about RSS initially is as a dynamic bookmark. Normally, if you happen to come across something on the web you want to find your way back to you would save the location of the page by creating a bookmark in your web browser. So let’s say you come across the CNN website, and you create a bookmark to it. The bookmark’s label defaults to 'CNN.com - Breaking News, U.S., World, Weather, Entertainment & Video News'. This is a static bookmark, the next time you look at that bookmark it’s going to say the same thing, and will take you to the same page.

The problem with this setup is that in order for you to read this ‘Breaking News…’ you have to click on the bookmark and actually go to the website. Wouldn't it be nice if CNN could send this ‘Breaking News…’ to you, instead of you needing to go to it?

Enter RSS. With RSS you can pull the RSS feed into a little software program called a news reader or an aggregator, which allows you to view the feeds on your computer. There's quite a few readers available (most of them are free), you can find some here or you can always do a Google search. Here's what an RSS feed looks like using a reader called SharpReader, which is a nice, free simple one:

RSS example

What's nice about this is that the news reader will periodically refresh the feeds, which means it will ask any website you've pulled feeds from if they have anything new to show you. If they do you can see it in the reader, without needing to open your browser and actually going to the site. You can arrange the feeds into categories or groups according to your needs. With most of the readers you can simply 'drag and drop' the RSS feed from the webpage into your news reader and presto, you've got your feed setup.

But be careful, if you're like most people news feeds are highly addictive! You may find yourself like me, spending more time than I will ever admit to anyone reading news feeds :)