What is RSS
What’s this all about?
In this information age, it is easy to spend more time looking for the latest news than actually reading it. Consider this situation: you like to follow the latest news from many sources; for international news you regularly go to CNN, Yahoo News, the BBC, and perhaps the Web sites of news organizations in your country and region. For IT news, you regularly go to CNET, PC World, Slashdot. Plus, you follow your friends’ blogs.
If you had to go to each Web site individually, then you’d spend more time in your bookmarks than reading the headlines, and more importantly, you may find there hasn’t been any new news since you were last there – a waste of your time and effort. Enter RSS feeds.
What is an RSS feed and how do I read it?
An RSS feed (or more generally, a feed) is simply a subscription to updates from a Web site or Web page. Through RSS, you can be automatically notified as soon as updates are made. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. Technically, a feed is an XML file on each of these Web sites that is specially coded to list the latest headlines in a machine-readable format.
To read RSS feeds, you will need some software on your computer (an RSS reader client) or access to a Web site that offers the same functionality. To “subscribe” to feed, simply right-click the related graphic and click Copy Link Location or Copy Shortcut, then paste it into your RSS reader. Alternatively for users of free Web-based services Bloglines, Google Reader, My Yahoo, and Pluck, simply click the appropriate button to add the feed to your account. We go into more detail on both of these below.
How is RSS different from e-mail?
First, with RSS, you don’t give out your e-mail address. This means fewer organizations and people will know your email address and you will potentially get less spam e-mail as a result.
Secondly, the new articles that you receive via RSS don’t go into your e-mail inbox. All articles are stored and viewed by you using the RSS reader software or Web site you have configured. This means less clutter – your inbox is more likely to hold e-mails from your friends, family, and colleagues, and less from mailing lists.
A third benefit is that the feeds you subscribe to are automatically organized by feed. Unlike e-mail, where all new mail displays as one big list in your inbox (unless you’ve set up filtering), RSS readers typically display feeds separately from each other. As a result, your CNET feed and your BBC News feed, for example, remain separated and easier to manage.
Finally, RSS tends to be much more timely than most e-mail notifications.
What clients are available?
There are two main types of clients available, some free, some available for purchase. These are:
- Desktop aggregators are installed on your computer and are available for Windows, Mac, and just about every other platform. Web-based or online clients are special Web sites where you set up an account and then subscribe and read all your RSS feeds from the one location.
- The desktop-based ones have the advantage of letting you read the news articles offline and being as fast as your computer. The online ones have the advantage of letting you view your feeds from anywhere you have an Internet connection and Web browser.
Wikipedia has a great list of both types of clients at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RSS_Reader. The list includes links to the home page of each client with information on how to download and install each one.