Introduction to RSS

By Smallz Mancotywa on 2006/07/26

You have probably heard the buzz in and around the geek corridors. Someone has possibly told you they are using RSS, and how it has saved their life. Jupiter Research says 63% of large organisations are planning to use it by the end of this year. If there was a TV advertisement for it, it would probably be one of those convenience ads, where at the end a typical mom says "...thanks to RSS I now have more time to spend with my perfect family". You may even be using it right now and not even know it. It might even solve world hunger...OK maybe that's taking it a bit far. But what is RSS? There are many different ways of explaining this evolution. I will simply add to the description pool by using my interpretation of it.

RSS is the abbreviation for Really Simple Syndication. Interestingly enough abbreviation is exactly what it does. It abbreviates all the bumf most websites on the World Wide Web contain; in order to provide you with specific content you want. In other words, if you surf the web at a super rate and require a number of websites to be open at any given time, then RSS allows you to receive/ syndicate this information without requiring you to constantly open new pages in your browser. The trick here is that RSS does not work like a browser. It allows you to "pull" the content and leave everything such as images, colours, flashing graphics etc. behind. This allows for faster upload times, better scanning, more control and less distraction - when all you require is to take in content and not the flashing Vegas-like billboards down Super Information Highway.

To get into the RSS club you will need a RSS Reader or Aggregator. This can be a daunting task as there are multitudes available. Trying to test all of them is not an option! If you are an open source lover like me, you can download RSS Bandit. There are other good purchasable readers like Feed Demon. Mozilla Thunderbird, an open source email program, has one built in to it. The difference between most RSS Readers is the interface and functionality they provide. Most of the good ones are able to house a list of RSS feeds: categorized by types or groups of which you can customize. In addition to this there is a preview section where a list of the new content is ordered by heading/ subject and time posted -much like your email. Lastly, there will be another section which contains the full text version of content syndicated from that particular web page.

Normally your new RSS Reader contains a couple of feeds already installed to get you started. But in order to acquire new feeds yourself; you need to visit web pages which are RSS/ XML enabled. If you value the content on these pages, look for a small square orange icon with "XML" "RSS" or a radioactive type sign within it. This indicates there is a feed available somewhere (hopefully distinct...) on the page. There are still a couple of icons being used at the moment, but the RSS industry is trying to standardize it by advocating one. Alternatively, to acquire more feeds: get a friend with similar internet 'content' taste to and ask them to share feeds.

Browsers like Firefox can also accept feeds, although their display method is not as comprehensive as specialised RSS Readers. The great thing about the Firefox browser is that the small orange icon appears in the address bar, when a feed is available on a webpage. This lets you know immediately when a feed exists before searching the page.

Now try and download the feed on the Quirk homepage to get familiar with this type of icon. You can then go to your other favourite web sites and acquire their feeds. You'll go home satisfied with your new found ability to suck up in real-time; current information at a rate which would have Einstein fighting to keep up. I can just see ads with the typical moms now "...since that RSS Aggregator came into our lives we now save so much time. I am able to be present at every one of Johnny's soccer matches..." Cut to Johnny as he scores a goal and hugs his mom. A really huge orange icon appears on screen as an R&B diva voice sings... "Make every day an RSS day".