RSS. A Really Simply Explanation

A survey by eMarketer shows that over 88% of US employees don’t know what RSS is, or how to use it. As a relatively new technology, this is understandable, but a shame because it could easily be compared to how radio or television broke new ground in communicating with the masses.

So let’s see what we can do to help the world understand what this confounded, thingy-ma-jobber is — and how you can benefit from it on a daily basis.

What is RSS?

First of all, “RSS” stands for “Really Simple Syndication”. A technology that allows people to distribute their content to the world. And as the name conveys, it’s very simple to use.

What’s an RSS Feed? (the technical explanation)

An RSS feed is a way of sharing content. If you want to make material from your website available for publishing on other sites or accessible through an RSS reader, you can provide people with a “feed”. Feeds are available in different programming formats such as XML, RSS, Atom, etc., — but they’re all just different ways of accessing a feed.

Huh? What did he say?

My sentiments exactly.

First time I read something like that I could here the swooshing sound of the jargon flying over me head. So, since we’re talking about “Really Simple”, let me give you the simple speak.

What’s an RSS Feed? (the simple explanation)

An RSS feed is like a TV channel tuned into a specific website. So when someone wants to read information published on a website, all they have to do is open the RSS feed.

How Can RSS Feeds Help You?

RSS feeds can save you a lot of time.

For example; If you want to read articles on your favorite website you would normally have to;

  • Open your Internet browser software of choice
  • Go the website
  • Look to see if any new articles had been published (or try to locate a previously published article)
  • And then read it

If you’re only reading one or two websites, that’s fine. But if you want to stay on top of information being published by 10, 20, 50 or even 100 different website, the above process can take forever.

But if you subscribe to the RSS feed for each website (assuming they all have one), you can easily open your RSS reader and quickly see which website have published new content.

RSS feeds can help distribute your content

Like the proverbial tree falling in a forest, no one will know your content exists unless someone tells them about it, they find it through a search engine (which can take a while), or they manually go to your website everyday.

RSS solves a large part of that problem by making the content immediately available. As soon as you publish an article on your website or blog, your RSS feed will push the information to anyone who has subscribed to your feed.

Another benefit is that an RSS feed will “ping” (notify) search engines that your site has new information. And the quicker that search engines are notified, the faster your content can be indexed in to their search results.

How does RSS work

Let me use this analogy to help explain how RSS works. Way, way, WAY back when the the Microwave oven was first introduced, no one knew what it was or how it worked. But after a while, users of this new, miracle kitchen contraption stopped trying to figure out exactly how it worked, and just accepted that it did work and saved them a lot of time preparing meals. RSS follows the same principal. The only difference is that prolonged use or exposure won’t splatter alphabet soup across your screen.

How do I subscribe to an RSS feed?

Before you subscribe to an RSS feed, you’ll need a way to read them. There are thousands of RSS feed reading applications (also known as a “news aggregator”) available. There are even readers that work exclusively on mobile devices.

For a standalone computer application, I prefer NetNewsWire. For a free browser based option, Google Reader is a popular choice. But like I said, there are thousands to choose from so the best one to use is the one that works best for you.

That orange graphic thingy
There are two popular ways you can subscribe to an RSS feed.

  1. rss_32px_orange Clicking on the orange icon that look like this. This is generally displayed somewhere prominent on a website.
  2. rss_21px_blue Clicking on the blue icon displayed in the address bar in Firefox.

Now that you understand RSS and the benefits it gives you, click here to subscribe to our RSS feed.

Thanks!