What is RSS?

RSS stands for ‘Really Simple Syndication‘, and is a means by which you can automatically receive a website’s updated content without having to visit the site itself. RSS is most often associated with weblogs, but is also used by services such as Google News and CNN.

A website using RSS maintains a feed, which is simply a list of the site’s current content. When new content is added, the site’s feed is also updated, and other programs, called readers, are able to access this list and tell whether content has been added.

RSS Diagram

For example, this site’s RSS feed is kept here: http://totaldepravity.gilbertsrus.com/index.xml – ‘index.xml’ is the list itself. When I write a new article, that article’s title, text, and web address is added to this list. If someone knows the location of this list, they can use an RSS reader to see my site’s content without ever actually visiting the site.

RSS is a very convenient way to stay updated of your favorite sites without having to keep returning to those sites, when there may or may not be new content. CNN uses RSS, which means you can use an RSS reader to automatically retrieve new stories, instead of checking the site again and again for the latest news.

For example, I use a service called Google Reader. I simply save a site’s RSS feed in Google Reader, and each day I can see which sites have been updated, and read their new content in one place. I don’t have to bookmark my favorite sites, remember their URLs, or remember to visit them every day. Google Reader takes care of all of that for me. And since Google Reader is web-based, I can access my list of feeds from any computer.

To begin using RSS, you’ll first need to download or register to use an RSS reader. There are many options, and most of them are free: again, I use Google Reader, but Newsgator, Bloglines, and Rojo are other options.

Current versions of Firefox and Internet Explorer are also able to maintain your RSS feeds.

Once you’ve selected and installed (or registered with) your RSS reader, simply start adding your favorite sites’ RSS feeds. First and foremost, look for this symbol:

RSS Feed Icon

This is the standard icon for RSS feeds, and is generally displayed somewhere on a site’s sidebar navigation. It may also appear in your browser’s address bar. If you click the icon, you’ll be taken to a page that won’t mean much to you – you’re looking at the feed, which isn’t meant to be read by humans. Instead, copy that page’s URL to your reader. The reader will now watch that site for you, and keep you updated of new content.

RSS readers are also often able to discover a site’s RSS feed for you. In that case, all you’ll need to do is enter the site’s URL.

Many sites using RSS also include links to popular aggregators, which, when clicked, will automatically add that site’s feed to the aggregator. Newsgator members who find my site can click the Newsgator icon on the homepage, and my RSS feed will be saved to their account.

For more information about RSS, I suggest reading this Wikipedia article, which also contains a list of aggregators.

If you’re short on favorite sites, you can search blog directories like Technorati or IceRocket to find sites of interest to you.

If you have any questions, or need help with RSS, please feel free to contact me.