What is RSS? - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -


What is RSS?

RSS stands for "Really Simple Syndication." It is a way to easily distribute a list of headlines, update notices, and sometimes content to a wide number of people. It is used by computer programs that organize those headlines and notices for easy reading.

What Problem Does RSS Solve?

Most people are interested in many Web site whose content changes on an unpredictable schedule. Examples of such Web site are news sites like WBOC.com, community and religious organization information pages, product information pages, medical Web sites and weblogs. Repeatedly checking each Web site to see if there is any new content can be very tedious.

E-mail notification of changes was an early solution to this problem. Unfortunately, when you receive email notifications from multiple Web sites they are usually disorganized and can get overwhelming, and are often mistaken for spam.

RSS is a better way to be notified of new and changed content. Notifications of changes to multiple websites are handled easily, and the results are presented to you well organized and distinct from email.

How does RSS work?

RSS works by having Web site authors maintain a list of notifications on their Web sites in a standard way. This list of notifications is called an "RSS Feed". People who are interested in finding out the latest headlines or changes can check this list.

Special computer programs called "RSS aggregators" have been developed that automatically access the RSS feeds of Web sites you care about on your behalf and organize the results for you. (RSS feeds and aggregators are also sometimes called "RSS Channels" and "RSS Readers".)

Producing an RSS feed is very simple and hundreds of thousands of Web sites now provide this feature, including WBOC, CBS News, as well as many Weblogs.

What information does RSS provide?

RSS provides very basic information to do its notification. It is made up of a list of items presented in order from newest to oldest. Each item usually consists of a simple title describing the item along with a more complete description and a link to a Web page with the actual information being described. Sometimes this description is the full information you want to read (such as the content of a Weblog post) and sometimes it is just a summary.

The RSS information is placed into a single file on a Web site in a manner similar to normal Web pages. However, the information is coded in the XML computer language for use by a program (the RSS aggregator) and not by a person like a normal Web page.

RSS Aggregator Programs

Think of an RSS aggregator as just a Web browser for RSS content. RSS aggregators automatically check a series of RSS feeds for new items on an ongoing basis, making it is possible to keep track of changes to multiple Web sites without needing to tediously read and re-read each of the Web sites yourself. They detect the additions and present them all together to you in a compact and useful manner. If the title and description of an item are of interest, the link can be used to quickly bring the related Web page up for reading. There are many RSS aggregators available. Some are accessed through a browser, some are integrated into e-mail programs, and some run as a standalone application on your personal computer.

How Do I Find Out if a Web Site Has an RSS Feed?

It is getting more and more common for Web sites to have RSS feeds. They usually indicate the existence of the feed on the home page or main news page with a link to "RSS", or sometimes by displaying an orange button with the letters "XML" or "RSS". RSS feeds are also often found via a "Syndicate This" link. Text "RSS" links sometimes (there are lots of variations) point to a Web page explaining the nature of the RSS feeds provided and how to find them. The buttons are often linked directly to the RSS feed file itself. Once you know the URL of an RSS feed, you can provide that address to an RSS aggregator program and have the aggregator monitor the feed for you. Many RSS aggregators come preconfigured with a list to choose from of RSS feed URLs for popular news Web sites.
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