An introduction to RSS

Posted by Zombie Head | 10:01 AM | , , | 0 comments »

You've just come across a blog that has interested you a lot. You've also read all the 64 posts in that blog. But the last post is on March 8th, 2007 and you're not sure when the next post would come. You've bookmarked the page and open it each morning to see if there is a new post.

You've also discovered a nice news site and bookmarked it. News items are published at the rate of 5+ every hour. Unfortunately, details behind the sitting postures of Mr. A and Mrs. A in their 'celebrity' wedding don't interest you much. You would like to just glance through these news and read details of only those news that you are really interested in.

Cutting the story short - various sites, various frequencies, various interests and you want to read them all. 2 or 3 favourite sites would be fine with bookmarking. But what do with a list of 50+ sites consisting of news, stories, videos, photos, reviews, and the sites on the other side of the Web.

RSS stands for 'Really Simple Syndication' (latest expansion). It is part of something that is called Web Syndication. Answering the recent question arising in your head, it just means sharing a part of a site's information with other sites, applications, and more in a common format. So, RSS is one such format.

"When people ask me what RSS is, I say it's automated web surfing. We took something lots of people do, visiting sites looking for new stuff, and automated it. It's a very predictable thing, that's what computers do -- automate repetitive things." - Dave Winer (one of the programmers for RSS)

1. Feed
So, an RSS feed is actually a portion of the website content in a particular XML format. It also resides in the servers along with the regular site for the various 'feed readers' to read. If you are using the browser, you should be able to see an orange indicator at the right end of the address bar which implies than an RSS feed is available for that site. Other notifiers could be present in the page itself. Random info - Cricinfo provides 12 RSS feeds.

2. Readers
You'll need a 'reader' to display the XML feed from the sites in a nice user-friendly view with other related bells and whistles.

a. Desktop Readers:
You need to download a .exe and install it. You can add your feeds to it. FeedReader and SharpReader are two freewares the poster found in FileHippo.

b. Readers in your browser:
Reading feeds right along with the browser is a fun idea as it goes along with your browsing. Firefox has 'Live Bookmarks' through which you can view the titles of the various items (headlines?). If you want to try it out, just click on the orange icon mentioned in the previous point and save it to your 'Bookmarks Toolbar'. You can see the bookmark reveal a drop-down having a list of titles.
However, most would want something better in functionality. There are some good extensions that help you in managing RSS feeds almost like a desktop reader. There is a link right at the end about a few of the Fx RSS addons. Try out RSS Ticker. It is something like the 'running news' on 24x7 news channels.

c. Online readers:
This is about using sites as a reader. The main advantage of this is that it is online and you can access your feeds from almost anywhere on Planet Earth. The poster uses Google Reader while Netvibes (has a whole world in it) has a faithful following too. [Others?] Google Gears now caches content so that it can be read later even without a net connection.

3. Adding the feed to the reader
Clicking on the orange icon helps you add the feed to Live Bookmarks, Bloglines, My Yahoo!, Google Reader or any other desktop reader you might have. If you are using an online application not mentioned, just add the URL and the reader will pick up the RSS feed.

Feed length
Feeds can be complete or partial. As implied, partial means you would have to read the rest in the main site. E.g. Autoblog and Blogger provide complete feeds while IBN provides only partial feeds (thanks a lot to them for that).

Anything other than RSS?
Oh yes, a recent standard called 'Atom' is supposed to be superior to the RSS format. However, no need to think too much about the details as most feed-readers gobble both formats with ease.

Hope you've settled to whichever method you are comfortable with. You will soon realize that you are covering a lot more online. Read your news, catch up on the latest videos, see who's editing what in Wikipedia, monitor the latest eBay auctions and of course, wait for your fav blogger's post.

Quoting from some blogger - Now, you don't go to the sites; the sites come to you.

However, soon you'll start being curious about what your neighbour is browsing or you'd want to know what's the latest news that has grabbed peoples' attention. Group, community, social, sharing - just remember these words till the next post in this series.

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