How to Explain RSS to Newbies

It can be challenging to explain RSS, even to intermediate Internet users. However, RSS is so useful that it's worth understanding, so if you haven't gotten the gist yet, try this explanation.

One definition for RSS is Really Simple Syndication, and that's pretty much what's in play when you're looking at RSS feeds. RSS works like syndication in other formats. Consider a newspaper column, for example. A popular writer, such as Dear Abby, may write a single newspaper column once a week. When the column goes into syndication, multiple newspapers pick it up and publish it; it doesn't just appear in a single publication. The same thing happens in television, when a network picks up the right to air a show in syndication; this could be reruns of a network program or a series that isn't run by a single network, such as Wheel of Fortune.

Basically, syndication is when a content producer creates a single piece of content that gets sent to multiple outlets.

Really Simple Syndication
RSS feeds function like other types of media syndication, which is why some define the acronym RSS as Really Simple Syndication. A content producer creates a single piece of content. This gets linked to RSS feeds so that multiple sources can pick it up and publish it. They do this by providing an RSS URL, which other people can paste into a feed reader or aggregator.

Managing RSS Content
Most people who use RSS feeds do so through an RSS feed reader. This can take the form of downloadable software, a Web-based reader or a Web browser add-on. Once you've got a reader, you simply paste in RSS URLs from your favorite sites and let the syndication do its work. You'll get updates each time new content is published, without having to visit the site to find it.

Benefits of RSS
For a reader, the primary benefit of RSS is in not having to go around and check multiple Web sites individually for new content. When you use RSS feeds to monitor content, your RSS feed reader displays the new content when it appears. This is useful both in news sources, where you want to stay on top of headlines, and for personal blogs, which may be updated sporadically.

One of the most difficult things for content producers to manage is getting people to come back to the page regularly for content. Unless people make a concerted effort to work things into a routine, they typically don't visit the same Web sites every day. If users find an interesting Web site, they'll bookmark it, but they may not come back for weeks or months.

Providing RSS feeds gives readers direct access to your content. This means that even if people forget to check your site, they'll still read the important new article that you write. Providing an RSS feed is a way to stay current in readers' minds, and continue to reach out to people on a daily basis.

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