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16 Jan 2008

What actually is RSS?

I get asked this consistently by my client when they have come across this three-letter acronym in the course of their surfing.

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication; syndicating means republishing an article that comes from another source such as a website. A RSS feed is a means of publicizing updates about websites. It normally includes a summary and photos of the latest posting. But those that provide summaries allow users to skim through the article so that they can decide later on if they want to access the website source. The RSS feed usually starts with the title of the post originating from the website. It is normally the link to the website source.

What are the Benefits of RSS?

RSS provides benefits to both readers and web publishers.

1. It gives you the latest updates from news sources. Whether it is about the weather, software updates, news, or a new posting from a seldom updated site.

2. It saves on websurfing time. An RSS feed provides a summary of the related article and it saves the reader's time by helping him/her decide on which items to prioritize when reading or browsing the net.

3. It gives the power of subscription to the user. Users are given a free-hand on which websites to subscribe to in their RSS aggregators which they can change at any time they decide differently.

4. It lessens the clutter in your inbox. Although your email address will be required to enjoy the services of online RSS aggregators, RSS does not use your email address to send the updates.

5. It is spam free. Unlike e-mail subscriptions, RSS does not make use of your e-mail address to send updates thus your privacy is kept safe from spam mails.

6. Unsubscribe is easy. Unlike e-mail subscriptions where the user is asked questions on why he unsubscribed and then the user is asked to confirm unsubscribe, all you have to do is to delete the RSS feed from your aggregator.

7. It can be used as an advertising or marketing tool. Users who subscribe to or syndicate product websites receive the latest news on products and services without the website sending spam mail. This is advantageous to both the web user and the website owner since advertising becomes targeted; those who are actually interested in their products are kept posted.
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What are the Drawbacks of RSS?

The disadvantages of RSS stem from user-preference concerns and the fact that it is a new technology.

1. Some users prefer receiving e-mail updates over an RSS feed.

2. Graphics do not appear in RSS. For conciseness and ease of publication, RSS feeds do not display the pics from the site in announcing the update except for some web-based aggregators.

3. The identity of the source website can be confusing. Since RSS feeds do not display the actual URL or name of the website, it can sometimes get confusing on what feed a user is actually reading.

4. Publishers cannot determine how many users are subscribed to their feed and the frequency of their visits. Moreover, they do not know the reasons why users unsubscribe which could be important in improving their advertising.

5. RSS feeds create higher traffic and demands on the server. Most readers still prefer the whole update over a brief summary of the entry, thus they still access the site.

6. Since it is a new technology, many sites still do not support RSS.

How Do I Start Using RSS?

There are two things needed: an RSS feed and an RSS aggregator or reader. The RSS feed comes from an RSS-supported website. There are also websites that provide a directory of RSS feeds from different websites. An RSS aggregator is used to read the RSS feed from the source website. It scans and collects data on the latest RSS feeds from the worldwide web.
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An aggregator comes in two forms: a downloadable program, also known as a desktop aggregator, and an online or web-based aggregator. Downloadable aggregators may require payment before they can be acquired, while internet-based aggregators are usually free. All you need to do is to register an account and you are ready to use their services. Both versions allow you to customize, or choose, which RSS feeds to enter. Paid aggregators are usually chosen by more experienced users and they usually allow more freedom in customizing feeds.

1. Choose an RSS aggregator to use. For beginners, web-based aggregators are recommended since they are usually user-friendly.

2. Scan the homepage of your target website for the RSS or XML button. It contains the RSS code you need to enter in the aggregator. Copy this code. Syndic8 provides a directory of websites that support RSS.

3. Paste the code (which contains the URL of the website) in your aggregator. There is a space provided for pasting the code.

After you have done these three easy steps, you can start reading the RSS feeds coming from the website. New postings appear as they are published in real time at the source website.

So these are the basics of RSS, and how you access them.

1 comment:

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