How does RSS Work

Posted By BrokenClaw on October 5, 2007

RSS is the abbreviation for Really Simple Syndication. The idea is that the process automatically captures new content from the Internet as soon as it is available on the websites you select. The content which is sent is called a feed, because it is being fed to you. It may consist of podcasts, blog entries, or news articles. The process of adding an automated feed is called a subscription, in the same sense as subscribing to a newspaper or magazine, except that RSS subscriptions are completely free.

For podcasts, the advantage is that you don’t have to go to the website and check to see if a new show is available. RSS automatically checks for you and downloads the podcast to your computer. For blogs and news articles, the RSS feed usually consists of a summary and/or title, with a link if you want to see the full text. To participate in RSS, you have to use a web application called an RSS (or feed) reader or news (or feed) aggregator. There are dozens of these applications available (mostly) free online which work in different ways.

The first type is sometimes called client software, which you download and install on your computer. Some of these applications are integrated into the operating system or your browser, such as Windows Live Mail, Internet Explorer 7, Apple Safari, Mozilla Thunderbird, and Firefox Live Bookmarks. Others are third-party applications such as FeedDemon and BlogBridge.

A simpler type of reader to setup is one hosted by a website, where you sign up for an account, and then access the content online. Examples of this service are Google Reader, My Yahoo, and Bloglines. Of course, these services are mostly for news and blog articles, since they don’t automatically download media files (podcasts) to your computer.

Another type of reader is integrated into online media providers, such as Apple iTunes, Microsoft Zune, and Songbird. These aggregators are designed specifically for media files to be transferred to your computer or portable player.

RSS iconOnce you install a reader, or sign up for an online reader, you add your feeds from the host’s website. Originally, this process required you to copy and paste some web code into the reader, but most sites today have an automated process which only requires you to click on a link or on the RSS icon (usually colored orange as seen here). Since the iPod and iTunes are so ubiquitous among online media consumers, websites often include a dedicated button for subscribing to content coded specifically for iTunes. Websites may also recommend an RSS reader for newcomers.

The abbreviation RSS can also designate RDF Site Summary or Rich Site Summary, which are variations of the same concept.


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