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What is Really Simple Syndication (RSS)?

RSS Explained

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What is RSS?

Image by the Mozilla Foundation

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication and represents the standardized web feed syndication. That's quite a mouthful. What does it mean?

Think of it like the New York Times crossword puzzle. The New York Times is the home of the puzzle, but it is also printed in newspapers across the country. This is called syndication. To facilitate this on the web, a standard is needed to pass information back and forth. That's where RSS comes in. It provides the standard for syndicating articles on the Internet.

Most of us run across this syndication every time we browse the web. A site that is syndicated will usually advertise its RSS feed using the orange icon pictured above this article. Some sites will also use icons for common RSS feed aggregators like Yahoo, Google or Netvibes.

How to Get Started With RSS

How do you get in on the act? The first thing you will need to do is sign up with a feed aggregator. That's just a fancy way of saying that you'll need a place to store all of your RSS subscriptions.

The newest versions of the Internet Explorer and Firefox browsers come with built-in RSS support. If you are on a website that has an RSS feed, the browser will usually recognize this and put the RSS icon either on the address bar (in Firefox) or the tab bar (in Internet Explorer). Clicking on the RSS logo will take you to the web feed where you can subscribe to it through your browser. Firefox also allows you to choose Yahoo, Google or Bloglines in addition to the built in feed aggregator.

If you don't have a version of Internet Explorer or Firefox that supports web feeds, or you just don't want to use your browser as a feed aggregator, you can also use most personalized start pages. Adding a feed to a personalized start page can be more difficult, but can also be easier to maintain.

Usually, you will need the feed's address to add it to a personalized start page. This address can be found on the address bar when you click on the RSS icon. Just highlight this address, copy it to the clipboard by going to edit and choosing copy, and then follow the directions for adding a feed to your personalized start page.

Why Subscribe to Feeds?

The main reason to subscribe to feeds is to save time. If you find yourself going to multiple news sites or have a number of blogs you like to read, adding their feeds to an aggregator allows you to scan for new content on one page instead of going to each page individually.

If you only have a few pages you keep up with on a daily basis, it's probably easiest to just go to each individual page directly. But, if you like to hit a current news page, a sports page, a financial page, and a couple of blogs, or if you like to get your current news from several sources, a feed aggregator can come in handy.

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