RSS: The Basics All Bloggers Should Know

Blogs are making it possible for all of the world’s information to be accessible. But keeping up-to-date with the multitude of information you are interested in can be overwhelming. Wouldn’t it be nice to have the freshest news and content delivered directly to you without having to surf from one blog to another? RSS informs you when blogs have added new content. You can get the latest headlines and blog entries be they text, audio files, photographs or video in one screen as soon as they are published.

Figuring Out RSS

You must have noticed the little orange buttons with the icons XML, RSS, Subscribe, and Syndicate This Site when you visit blogs. Clicking on the button, all you will see is a heap of computer codes. This is an RSS feed.

RSS stands for RDF Site Summary, Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication. The latter is the most popular descriptive definition. RSS is a feed format that allows blog publishers to share and distribute content to other blogs or individual web surfers. Bloggers use RSS to provide updates in the form of blog posts. If a blog publishes RSS content commonly known as RSS feed, this feed will include summaries of all the entries posted on that blog. RSS is written in the Internet coding language XML, thus some buttons are labeled as such.

The first part of an RSS feed is a descriptive detail about the “channel” or the source that is publishing the content. The “channel” may include the title of the source, a short description, its blog address, date the information was last updated, name and e-mail address of the blog author. The second part is the list of items. Each “item” represents one published piece of content. Each “item” includes the headline of the entry (title), a two to three sentence summary of the entry (description) and the URL address to read the full entry.

RSS feeds are meant to be read by a software or web-based application known as a feed reader. Feed readers understand the data contained in RSS feeds and translates these data and make available to Internet users or customized blogs,

Subscribing to RSS Feeds

To receive updates or view RSS feeds, you will need a feed reader. A feed reader is an application that allows you to subscribe (add a feed) to a blog and receive quick summaries when that blog is updated. This application is also referred to as RSS reader, news aggregator, news reader or feed aggregator. When you subscribe to RSS feeds, the feed reader collect from different blogs and organize them in a convenient place for you to read rather than you visiting individual blogs looking for new content. Whenever new content is posted from one of the feeds you are subscribed to, the feed reader displays the new headlines. You can go over the headlines and if one is particularly interesting, you can click the headline and you will be brought to the original source where you can read the entire content.

There are primarily two versions of feed readers – web-based and stand-alone applications. Web-based or online feed readers provide a quick start for RSS subscriptions. They let you read your RSS feeds from any computer. Some of these readers are free while others with advanced features are offered at a cost. Some examples of web-based feed readers are Google Reader, My Yahoo and Bloglines. Stand-alone or downloadable feed readers are applications that you install on your main computer just like the Microsoft Outlook e-mail program. These feed readers are usually run in the background. A sound or pop-up window notifies you of any updates. SharpReader is a free feed reader for Windows. For Mac users, a preferred feed reader is NetNewsWire.

Once you have a feed reader, you can choose what you want to receive in your feed reader. You can also add feeds through the RSS buttons of your favorite blogs. Clicking on the RSS orange icon, you can subscribe to the feed by dragging the URL of the RSS feed into your feed reader or by cutting and pasting the same URL into a new feed in your feed reader. Most blogs offer RSS feeds using the orange RSS, XML button. Conversely, you can also create your own RSS feed.

Creating an RSS Feed

You can also create you own feeds. It is a pretty easy task. The hard part is creating the content itself. The feed part is usually just using the standard RSS format that notifies the feed reader which sections of your blog entry relates to the RSS title, description, date, link and other pertinent data. This is done using XML format, the standard method of surrounding the significant parts of the content with tags that the feed reader understands. Once content has been set up with an RSS feed, then it is ready for the reading public.

Publishing an RSS Feed

You can add RSS syndication as a publishing option in your blog. In some cases, this is done automatically, without you having to set up anything. If you are using a blogging tool software like Blogger, TypePad or WordPress, publishing a feed is one of their built-in features plus some other feed-related options. Other types of feed readers may require programming skills to add RSS syndication. Once you have created an RSS feed with your blogging software, pipe it through your feed reader and voila, a whole stream of benefits awaits you.

Benefiting from RSS

The most compelling use of RSS is that it lets you take hold of information you are interested in and have it updated for you in one place where you can read it within the shortest possible time. RSS has been embraced by individual users, blog publishers and businesses as well.

For individual users, RSS feeds keep them updated on news, information and blog posts. There is no need to visit numerous blogs. There is no deluge of e-mail newsletters that clutter the mailbox. Unlike e-mail, there is no spam. Opting out can be done anytime and there is no need to give any contact information to subscribe to a feed. An individual user can also customize content that comes to him and ignore blog entries that are of no interest to him. There is absolutely no need to check back for new postings as the feed reader delivers content to him.

For blog publishers, RSS permits quick distribution of new blog entries to individual users in a convenient way. RSS feeds when incorporated into a blog offers a more personalized and interactive user experience, strengthening blog presence and maximizing revenue opportunities.

For businesses, RSS feeds enable them to do without regularly checking blogs for important updates or plowing through a pile of e-mail distribution lists. RSS provides businesses with much-needed fresh information. RSS feeds are extremely helpful for brand marketing, customer service, internal and external communications and competitive awareness.

In a nutshell, if you want to be informed of the latest news and happenings around the world and is having a hard time managing information overload, RSS is the answer.

Hopefully, these basics can help you get started with RSS. It may be difficult to understand at first, but once you get the gist of it, surfing the web will be effortless with RSS.

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