What Is RSS?

RSS is an XML based document, which summarizes available updates to online data, such as news feeds, podcasts, and blogs. Whenever a web-site offers an RSS feed, you will typically find a common icon (, , or ) or a link, like this: Subscribe RSS. RSS is a proprietary format, owned by Harvard. The closed control of the RSS format has prompted the development of a similar, but open source format, Atom. Depending on the version number and who you ask, RSS was once considered an acronym, representing:

Because of the confusion, some people have dropped the notion of RSS being an acronym and now consider it a proper noun.

What Does RSS Do?

Much more information could be provided, but simply put, RSS enables you to monitor a "feed", which alerts you to updates, modifications, and alerts provided by the feed source. Typically, an RSS feed contains a headline title, summary, and link to the full corresponding article. However, an RSS feed can be used for more than article updates. Apple's popular "podcast" (for example) is based on an RSS feed format, so in this case, it is used to alert you to new available shows, which you can download to your iPod or iTunes player.

In addition to facilitating technology like podcasts, the most convenient feature of RSS feeds is the ability to monitor the feeds anonymously. In other words, you can receive updates on your favorite web-sites, forums, blogs, or podcasts without having to visit the web-site or subscribe to an email list. You can quickly skim headlines and subjects, deciding which articles to read. This saves you time, while keeping you current on the latest information!

How Do I Use It?

When visiting a web-site, if you try to click on the RSS or XML icons, you will be taken to a page filled with garbage. This is the (almost) raw RSS format, and it is typically not fit for human consumption. You need a computer program to read the RSS feed and transform it into something that you can read. You need an "RSS reader" or "aggregator". "Readers" come into two general flavors: web based and client based. Just like email, you can check your data by either logging into a web-site using an id and password to check your RSS feeds, or you can download and install a client on your computer to monitor your favorite RSS feeds. Regardless of your choice, you will need to copy the RSS feed address and paste it into the reader, so you can "subscribe" to the updates. Incidentally, although the process of signing up for the RSS feed is typically called "subscribing", no personal data (like email address) is registered with the hosting site. Your RSS reader monitors the feed, not the other way around.

Most of the popular portal sites (Google, Yahoo, Netscape, etc.) provide RSS readers. For example, Google allows you to include RSS feeds on your personal homepage (partial screenshot). Popular integrated clients, which you can download and install on your computer, include: Mozilla Thunderbird (partial screenshot; good replacement for Outlook Express), general purpose web-browser Mozilla Firefox using bookmark sidebar or "Sage" plugin, Opera web-browser, Outlook plugins, and many more. Several good standalone clients are also available, like FeedReader. Given the vast amount of good, free, flourishing RSS readers, beware any commercial readers that cost money.

What Do I Do Now?

We offer three RSS feeds on our sites:

The first three feeds can be monitored with most RSS readers, or even some web-browswers (Firefox partial screen shot), which will keep you current with all the latest changes on our sites. The two audio feeds are primarily intended to be used with Apple's iTunes, since they are formatted as "podcasts".

After signing up for these RSS feeds, you should scrutinize your other favorite sites, looking for the RSS and XML icons, so you can sign up for their RSS feeds. Most big, popular sites have RSS feeds available. Once you sign up for a few feeds, you will be hooked. You will never surf the web in the same way again. Instead, the web will come to you!

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