Have you ever wondered what those little orange XML images () meant? Or maybe you’ve heard of RSS (or possibly even used it with something like My Yahoo) but didn’t really know what it was? Or maybe you just want to know the easiest way to keep up with many blogs and other news sources as possible? Then read on!
But if you are looking for the history of RSS or even a technical discussion of the format, then this isn’t the place for you. Maybe I’ll write about the history of RSS later. As for technical information, I would suggest just going to a spec’s and reading it. For technical specs, they are actually pretty readable (as long as you have the XML or even some HTML background, that is).
A Brief Background
The WWW started out static. You would point Mosiac to an address and you would get that page. Refresh it as often as you like and you would most likely get the same page. But people quickly saw the benefit in creating dynamic web content. With static content, once I’ve read the page there really is no reason to go back to it since it probably won’t change tomorrow. But if there is a site that I know gets updated pretty often, I am more likely to go back to it.
The first dynamic sites were probably news sites, like CNET.com and Slashdot.org, and places like the Washington Post. You could point your web browser to http://www.washingtonpost.com/ and see what the current news was. And if you checked back in 15 minutes, you may see some new news.
For many years, I had this routine in the morning and during the day. Start up IE and open up a few pages (like slashdot, my.yahoo, and CNN) and find out what news is going on. This was fine in the morning, as I probably hadn’t checked since the previous evening and the content has changed on those sites. But if I had a break in my work and wanted to check what news had happened since the morning, a lot of times I would go to those sites and there would be no new stories. But it would require a bit of work on my part to go to this page and see if any of the content on it had changed. This is especially true for a site like my.yahoo.com which is a news portal and has a lot of articles on it.
My routine has changed. I use a News Aggregator to get my news via RSS and have it delivered to my desktop. I’m currently subscibed to about 50 RSS feeds on topics ranging from what the weather will be, to the latest in tech news, to breaking world news. If you are interested in what I read, you can check out my BlogRoll. The interesting phenomena that we are seeing now is traditional media outlets like BBC and the Washington Post embracing RSS as a way to increase readership.
But if I am no longer going to these web pages to check for new news, how are the content providers generating ad revenue? More cutting edge content providers are placing small ads into their RSS feeds. The more traditional content providers use RSS as a gateway to drive you to their website. They just provide a bit of a teaser, enough to get you to click on the link and read the whole article. And give you an ad impression…
So how would someone get started in exploring RSS feeds? The first step is to pick a News Aggregator that will pull the news to your desktop. Personally, I use NewsGator, which pulls RSS items and puts them in Microsoft Outlook for me. Since I spend 5 days a week in front of Outlook at work, this works really well for me. NewsGator also offers a free web-based service where I can read my feeds from any web browser in the world (and it syncs with my Outlook version).
Another News Aggregator that I’ve heard nothing but good news about it Bloglines. It is completely Web based and is supposed to have some nice advanced features.
My.Yahoo has recently embraced RSS. You can add any RSS feed onto your My.Yahoo page. This is really nice for people who are used to My.Yahoo and want to explore the world of RSS, but it lacks a feature that I think is really important: some way to mark an item read so you don’t have to see it again.
You can check out this page for more information on various RSS readers.
RSS Feeds to Check Out
There are a lot RSS Feeds out there. If you ever see a little chiclet that says “RSS” or “XML” in it, that’s a signal of an RSS feed (). If you use Firefox (and why aren’t you?), look down in the lower right hand corner and an orange icon will show up when you are on a page that has an RSS feed.
If you are looking for an RSS feed on a specific topic, there are a few websites that fit this niche. Feedster is a search engine for RSS feeds, and Syndic8 is more of a catalog of RSS feeds. Sometimes you can just put search terms into google and come up with them.
I’ve already pointed you to all the RSS feeds that I read, but let me call your attention to some of the more outstanding feeds. If you only subscribe to one feed, add boingboing to your list. It is a collection of random interesting links from all over the internet. A lot of the are technology focused, but there is a lot they talk about that isn’t. Of course you should read both my blog and Margaret’s. I’m also a big fan of rssweather, which syndicates your local weather forecast.
There are also two RSS feeds that are very cutting edge. They allow you to specify your Fedex or UPS tracking number and then create a feed with the tracking information in it. This way you always have the information on where you package is available on your desktop. UPS. Fedex. (both sites are unaffiliated with their shipping companies…)
If in your looking you come across a site that offers RSS feeds for movie show times, let me know. I’ve been looking for one for about a year and haven’t come across one (an haven’t yet gotten to the point of writing my own…).
Hopefully this gives you enough information to start using and enjoying all that RSS has to offer. If you have any questions about it, feel free to add a comment below and I’ll try to respond.