Thursday, April 28, 2005

What is RSS?

One useful piece of advice that came out of the 2005 Computers in Libraries conference was a bit of "jargon avoidance"--since most people don't know what RSS is, tell them! This is my attempt to do so. This post will be permanently linked below the Atom/RSS subscription links in the righthand column.

RSS, which stands for Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary, is an information format. Using XML the information in this blog, or the New York Times, is formatted in such a way that a computer program can read the information. (However, like email, you don't have to know how it works in order to take advantage of it.)

If you have a News Aggregator, like Bloglines, NewsGator, My Yahoo!, or the Firefox web browser Live Bookmarks you can receive updates from the sources you choose. You get updates on a regular basis, usually every hour or so, and you only get them from the sources that you subscribe to. Unlike an email subscription, there is no way for someone to get your "address" and send you stuff you don't want. (However, it is possible for a RSS feed producer to insert ads into the feed. It's sort of like the little ads at the bottom of emails from many free email services, except usually with pictures.)

Using a news aggregator is a time saver. Instead of you coming to this blog, CNN, the Distant Librarian, Library Stuff, and/or whatever other sources you check regularly, the news aggregator visits them for you. It's kind of like a personal shopper. You tell it what you want it to go get, and it gets it for you. Most people report 50-75% reductions in the amount of time they spend checking the sites they regularly visit. It's especially good for sites, like this one, where the authors don't post every day. Instead of checking my site to see if I've posted, the aggregator does it for you. Also, in many services you can choose to receive only the headlines or titles of the articles/posts, so you can easily skim through and only read the stories which really interest you.

There are other uses for RSS as well. You can get certain types of searches reported to you in RSS format. Updates from news searches on Yahoo! and Topix can all be sent in RSS. With the Bloglines aggregator you can create email addresses to get what would normally be email alerts in Bloglines account. This also has the advantage of being "disposable" so if you find that you are getting spam, you can simply delete the address. It can work the other way round, too. The rssfwd site turns an RSS feed into an email subscription. Click the Subscribe by Email with rssfwd link in the righthand column of this blog to get all these posts by email. Feed To Javascript formats RSS feeds into javascript that can be posted on a website. The bottom of the Distance Education Library Homepage has the most recent post of this blog posted automatically via Feed to Javascript.

I hope this helps you get more out of the web!

For more information try:
Non-technical explanations:;
RSS for educators:
RSS for librarians:;
Technical info:;


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