What Is RSS

What is RSS and how can it bring your favorite Web pages to you? RSS is a subscription service whereby you can sign up to receive updates when an RSS-broadcasting Web site updates its feed. You can receive RSS feeds through software installed on your desktop, or you can use a Web-based feed reader to receive new content when it is posted on an RSS-enabled site. Many news sites, blogs and social-networking sites use RSS to distribute content updates to users, removing the necessity of coming to sites several times per day to check for updates. With RSS, you never need to check for updates; they're sent to you directly when you subscribe to a feed. Some sites only use RSS to distribute headlines or update notices and still require you to visit to review content, but it takes the guesswork out of knowing when to check a site for content updates.

RSS file types

Depending on where you look, you'll get different definitions for what RSS actually means. Sources indicate that RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, RDF Site Summary and Rich Site Summary. Wonder which one is accurate? All of them are correct, depending on which version of RSS you're discussing.

RSS first appeared in March of 1999 and has since undergone several incarnations. RDF Site Summary is version .90, the first incarnation of RSS, created in March of 1999 by a programmer at Netscape. Another Netscape programmer updated RSS in July of 1999, renaming it to Rich Site Summary when he created RSS .91, which incorporated elements from Dave Winer's syndication format. Winer claimed that he had already been using a modified version of the RSS feed on his Web site and released an updated version in December 2000. When Netscape removed RSS from its products in April 2001, Winer continued development of RSS formats, releasing RSS 2.0 in September 2002. In RSS 2.0, the RSS became Really Simple Syndication.

How do I subscribe to an RSS feed?

First you need an RSS aggregator or RSS feed reader. If you want to be able to check your RSS feeds from anywhere, use a Web-based RSS aggregator. If you only need to check your RSS feeds from home, you can download a software program for your computer to keep track of your favorite feeds. Google Reader and Bloglines are popular web-based RSS aggregators, while NewzCrawler and FeedDemon are popular desktop RSS feed readers.

After you've chosen an RSS aggregator, adding RSS feeds is as simple as firing it up or going to your favorite RSS-enabled sites. Many RSS aggregators come with a list of popular feeds, so you can simply select which ones you'd like to receive. When you want to subscribe to a site that offers RSS feeds, simply look for the RSS link to copy and paste into your RSS reader's add feed function, or follow the instructions on the site to add the RSS feed to your feed reader. In newer versions of Internet Explorer and Firefox, you'll see an orange RSS icon on the toolbar that lights up to let you know when a site has a feed available.

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