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RSS for Dummies (A short Introduction)

Posted in Tools and Software at Wednesday, 07 September 2005 16:47 W. Europe Daylight Time

This is a short introduction to RSS for all of you who don't have a strong technical background or a degree in CS. I'll try to keep it short and as simple as possible and use normal language, so you won't be confused with strange words.

I am trying to cover the following questions:

  1. Why RSS?
  2. What is RSS?
  3. How to leverage the potential of RSS?

1. Why RSS?

With the upcoming of the Internet, personal homepages sprouted. These sites were updated occasionally and the user was obliged to browse for new content using his/her web browser of choice. For some years, blogs (also referred as web logs) have been around. These sites are likely to be updated more often, so it is a very cumbersome task to have a look at each page that you're interested in. You may miss new content or even will have to read articles twice, searching for new stuff. The goal of RSS is to hand this task over to some software component.

2. What is RSS?

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. That is, RSS helps to aggregate the content of a particular site and deliver it in a way that a computer program is able to understand it. RSS is updated as new content is published, so the RSS feed of a site is always in sync with the homepage you see in the browser.

3. How to leverage the potential of RSS?

Now let's switch to the best part: There are programs that allow you to subscribe sites you're interested in. These so-called aggregators download the RSS feed of a site and presents it in a unified way. One may be reminded of e-mail clients:

RSS Bandit Screenshot

This is a screenshot of my favorite RSS aggregator. As you can see there's the list of my subscriptions on the left side. On top under "Feed Details" there is the list of items of the subscription that were published by the site's owner. Bold items are unread. The reading pane on the lower right part shows the contents of the items. These are the same as on the page itself, although formatted a little different.

You may have noticed orange RSS Icon and XML Icon images on some pages you've visited. These buttons are there to let you know that there's a RSS feed available for the site. The address (URL) linked by those images is the one an aggregator can handle. After you have subscribed to the site, your aggregator will query this URL periodically and tell you when there's new content available.

All you need is an RSS aggregator. There are many available, and most of them are free software.

You see, RSS is a powerful and yet comfortable way to subscribe to content you're interested in.

The URL of the RSS feed of this page is Feel free to let this be your first subscription.

A note to the geeks: I know that I have omitted all the interesting stuff. :-)

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Thursday, 08 September 2005 10:22:13 (W. Europe Daylight Time, UTC+02:00)
Noice work, I just wonder why now!?! Now, that I entered the topic and tackled the implementation on my own. Nevertheless, well done.

Christian, actually working on getting also an RSS/XML button next to the planetkris link on the right side of your page!
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