What is RSS and why you should use it? An introduction for newbies.

If you have spent some time on Internet you must have heard about this three letters word : RSS. If you already don’t know about this useful tool for efficiently browsing the web, here is a simple introductory article which will explain everything you need to know about RSS .

OK let’s start !

What is RSS anyway ?

RSS is an acronym for : Really Simple Syndication

It is also known as : Rich Site Summary

Some people also called it : Really Simple Subscribing.

In simplest terms,

“RSS is a simple and efficient way to keep in touch with a website without actually visiting it “

Yes. To keep in touch without actually visiting !

Now what does that mean ?

Let us understand it by an example.

Suppose you are planning to set up a small garden in your house and you are in need of good information on gardening. You search the Internet for some good websites on gardening and come across a nice website with excellent contents on gardening. You find that this website has a huge collection of Gardening tips such as : How to choose the best saplings, best gardening tools, places to buy good composts, water schedule in different seasons and precautions in Gardening etc.

You realize that this informative website is filled up with so much useful information on gardening that it is impossible for you to read all the information in one sitting. So what will you do?

If you are web savvy, you will simply add the site to your favorite folder. You will bookmark the site so that you can read it later whenever you want.
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Adding a website to your Favorite (in Internet Explorer) or Bookmark (in Mozilla Firefox) folder is the most preferred method to revisit a website for future reference.

However, this excellent method has some flaws in it. Extending the same example of Gardening tips websites, suppose, instead of just one website, you came across five or six excellent websites on gardening and you want to read all of them. The only solution is to add all these websites in your favorite folder so that you can select and read these websites one by one from your browser’s favorite folder. Right?

However, as you read these websites on gardening, you will find that many of these websites keep adding new articles and tips about gardening on regular basis. So in order to keep in touch with all the latest additions on these websites, you will have to visit them regularly through your favorite folder.

However, as you regularly visit these websites, you’ll also find that not all of them get updated daily. Most of them follow an infrequent updating schedule; some are updated in 2-3 days, some in 4-5 days and some on weekly/monthly basis. As all these websites are updated by their owners depending upon their own convenience, it is not possible to know exactly when a site will be updated. So you are left with no choice but to check these websites daily by actually visiting them in your browser.

Well, if you are passionate about Gardening and have lots of free time, you can afford to actually visit these important websites on Gardening on daily basis. However, practically this approach is not always possible.

What if, in addition to Gardening, you are also passionate about Home Decoration, Fishing and Muscle-Building? Can you really afford to visit all your favorites websites on Gardening, Home Decoration, Fishing & Muscle Building daily and keep track of their latest updates? Though it is always possible to do this, practical realities of life do not allow so much browsing time to most of us. We all are busy in our lives and, owing to time constraints, it is not possible to keep a track of all our favorite websites on daily basis by actually visiting them in our browser.

So what is the solution?

One solution is to subscribe to the newsletters of these websites. You must be aware that many websites publish a weekly e-zine or newsletter that contains a summary of all the latest updates made on the website .

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This newsletter is sent to the subscribers on daily/weekly basis. This newsletter can be subscribed by readers using an opt-in form and every subscriber gets a copy of the newsletter in his email. So if you subscribe to the newsletter of the websites of your choice related to Gardening, Home Decoration, Fishing & Muscle Building, you can be in touch with the latest updates on these websites through their newsletter. This method is much better than daily visiting the websites using the favorite folder of your browser. As you need to check only your inbox, this results in a quick reading of all the updates.

Subscribing to newsletters/e-zines of your favorite websites is an excellent way to keep abreast with the latest updates on them. However, this method also has some flaws which can make it a bit complicated & annoying in the long run.

First of all you have to disclose your email address to the website owners for subscribing to their list. Though in a majority of the cases, the email is not disclosed to third parties, you never know when and how your email can reach to spammers which may flood your inbox with shit. The element of email misuse is always there when subscribing to a newsletter.

Secondly, as you keep subscribing to newsletters of your favorite websites, slowly you will realize that everyday your inbox is getting filled up with emails from these websites and it is taking a substantial part of your time to segregate the mails that really matters. If you are a professional and work online, a constant flood of regular emails even from your favorite websites will soon starts irritating you. Further, the task of opening every email, reading it, deleting it or shifting it to another folder will be a time consuming process in itself. If you subscribe to a list of more than 10 newsletters, you will always be involved in managing your emails. Further, if you take a break from your online activity for some time (say to spend your vacation), you should be ready to find an overfilled inbox of unread emails when you return.

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In short, subscribing to newsletters of your favorite websites can also become an unmanageable task.

So is there any solution to be in touch with your favorite websites in an efficient and time-saving manner ?

Here comes the RSS. rss_logo2.jpg

The solution to the problems being faced by regular readers of a website in keeping abreast with its latest activities lies in a powerful technical facility known as RSS.

What actually happens in RSS is that whenever a website updates itself by means of producing an article/news item, it simultaneously produces a document that contains in itself the summary of all the updates made on the website. This document is in the form of an XML document. The ‘XML’ is a specialized language of web (similar to HTML language) which can be accessed by specialized softwares (knows as RSS Readers) that reproduce it in a readable language for the end user. The summary of the updates written on the XML document is known as a ‘Feed’. This XML document usually has an .xml extension.

So whenever somebody wants to keep in touch with the latest updates being made on a website he simply subscribed to its RSS feed. Subscribing to an RSS feed is as simple as copy & paste. You just need to copy the address of the RSS feed of your favorite website in your RSS reader. Now whenever you want to know whether any new updates has been made on a website, you only need to check it’s RSS feed in your RSS reader. If there have been any update, the same will be reflected in the feed. Simple 🙂

This way you can easily know whether a website/blog is being updated or not without actually visiting it.

RSS has some very significant advantages over the other two methods of keeping in touch with a website (i.e adding a site in the favorite folder or subscribing to its newsletter). You don’t have to save the file in your browser’s favorite folder and visit it regularly to check any new updates. As and when the site is updated, you can read it in the RSS reader. Further, you don’t have to disclose your email address to subscribe to the ezine of the site/blog. You only need to add the address of the RSS feed in your RSS reader. This ensures that you’ll never need to worry about receiving unsolicited mails in your inbox.

Let me elaborate now a bit on how to use an RSS reader. As I already explained above, an RSS Reader is a specialized software which interprets the RSS feed (written in XML language) and present it in a readable form to end user. Though there have been many online/offline RSS reader available, one of the best RSS readers is Google Reader which is fast, free and extremely reliable. There is nothing to download as the Google Reader is online. You only need a free Google account to use their reader. Just go to Google.com/reader, login into your account and add your favorite feeds. After adding the RSS feed, you will be able to read them in the reader easily. They will be listed in the form of a list just like emails in your inbox.

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Alternatively here are two excellent offline RSS software which you can download and installed in your computer :

Alnera Feed Buster ( Paid $19.95)

RSS Reader (Free)

Currently a majority of all websites/blogs are coming up with their RSS feeds. If a website is not publishing its RSS feed, by all yardsticks, it is going to be obsolete very soon as RSS is slowly taking a center stage in the ways people surf the net. Everyday more and more are people are choosing RSS as their preferred way of surfing the net. And why not ? It is such a great time saver and helps us browse so many websites so quickly.

Almost all the blogging platforms of today (like WordPress, Movable Type etc) have an inbuilt feature of creating an RSS feed automatically every time the blog is updated. So the blogger does not require to create an RSS feed separately for his blog. He only needs to keep blogging as always and the feed will be created on its own.

How to find the address of any RSS feed ?

If you want to subscribe to the RSS feed of a blog, look for the following orange icon :

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This orange icon has become the standard symbol of RSS and whenever someone needs to subscribe to the RSS feed of a blog/website, he only need to click on this icon to find the feed address.

For your kind information the RSS feed of this blog is :

http://feeds.feedburner.com/theindianblogger

Initially, reading various websites through their RSS feed in an RSS reader may appear a little odd to you. However, as your regularly use your reader, you’ll find that it is the fastest and the easiest method to keep in touch with your favorite websites/blogs. In our ever increasing busy life, RSS is a big time saver. If you are a heavy net surfer, you’ll soon be addicted to your reader.

So here was my attempt to explain the concept of RSS in a simple language. I think this is all you should know to have a general idea of what RSS is all about. I have refrained from explaining the technical details of RSS as I don’t think you need to know every internal part of a Car to drive it.

I would love to have your suggestions/comments on this explanation. If there is anything which needs more explanation or something which I have not covered here, feel free to mention that in your comments.

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20 Responses to What is RSS and why you should use it? An introduction for newbies.

  1. Stacey Derbinshire Mar 12, 2008 at 7:42 am #

    I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

    Stacey Derbinshire

  2. Varun Mathur Mar 12, 2008 at 11:08 am #

    Great writeup.

    I’m one of the geeks behind Alertle and frankly it is the only feed reader out there with a remarkably different, fresh and simple interface (http://www.alertle.com). Apart from that the choice is between a boxes model and a email-like model. Check out its 2 mt demo on YouTube and you might agree with me: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ztQJ4ec1aWs

  3. yuvaraj Mar 12, 2008 at 12:59 pm #

    A very good article …

  4. Shamim Mar 12, 2008 at 3:43 pm #

    I wrote a pretty comprehensive RSS series of 3 posts a few days ago. Here is the intro to the series. Feel free to check it out.
    http://blog.teqedge.com/2008/03/04/rss-for-dummies-newbie%e2%80%99s-guide-to-feed-nirvana/

  5. Eklavya Mar 13, 2008 at 12:42 pm #

    Thanks to all of you for reading this article and expressing your comments about it. Varun, the RSS reader you have developed seems very good. I was unaware of such a nice Reader. Keep up the good work.

  6. Sanjana Mar 17, 2008 at 5:14 am #

    Well written informative article. It will be great if you can publish your content in SiliconIndia, as I am a member of SiliconIndia, I am sure your piece of information will really be helpful for most of the members.
    http://www.siliconindia.com/register.php?id=T49I1Fh5

  7. Abhishek Tiwari Mar 18, 2008 at 5:26 am #

    I am an avid reader on internet. Until couple of months back, I was not aware of blogging but as and when I came to know about it, I yearned to start one and finally found my way on blogger.com. I used to think a lot about RSS feeds because of its attarctive icon and omnipresence on every website. I tried to enquire about this but to no avail.

    Today, I am so excited after having known the concept of RSS feeds and the great usage concept too. I immediatly started using google reader and the first RSS feed to have included is yours.

    Thanks once again
    Rgds-Abhi
    http://abhishekrtiwari.blogspot.com

  8. Dr. Harish Chandra Mar 24, 2008 at 11:38 am #

    Wonderful article which enables to know fully RSS

  9. somu Jun 25, 2008 at 10:25 am #

    very helpful article.

  10. Dr. Karolyn van Putten Jul 15, 2008 at 3:51 am #

    your rss explanation was very helpful, clarifying and persuasive. you got me.

  11. Eman Aug 26, 2008 at 7:30 am #

    Excellent explaination. Thank :-))

  12. Rukhsana Apr 8, 2009 at 4:22 am #

    Really useful for me.

  13. Raviraj Apr 14, 2009 at 12:17 am #

    Hi Eklavya,
    This is a very good article for a newbie.
    Keep-up the good work.
    Cheers.
    RDV

  14. Moacyr Jun 5, 2010 at 1:17 am #

    Really nice explanation I couldnt do it better, keep on doing interesting articles like that… hope to have good news very soon about new issues…

  15. Archana Nov 18, 2010 at 5:06 am #

    I would like to know something – if you include a Blogger address to your RSS feed and the blogger changes the blogspot address of this blog, will the new blogspot address be updated in your RSS feed, or will you lose track of this blog?

  16. Eklavya Nov 18, 2010 at 1:36 pm #

    Yes, you will loss the track of the blog. But why on earth anybody would like to lose devoted readers by changing the address abruptly ? In most cases, it will be an well informed slow process.

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