What is RSS and Why Should I Use It?
Really Simple Syndication, or RSS, is a mechanism for websites to publish changes to anyone who has subscribed to receive them. Even so, the fundamental concepts behind RSS have had profound effects on how publishers deliver content of many types to those who are interested. If you’ve never used RSS before, then learning how this technology has changed the rules of internet publishing may prove to be a powerful incentive in beginning to do so.
Before RSS became popularized, the process of receiving updates from websites was a tedious one. Users maintained bookmarks of sites which they must then check regularly. Of course, as the number of sites checked grew, so did the complexity of manually checking them all for updates, and often sites that didn’t reward readers with regular and enjoyable content on a frequent basis stopped getting revisited.
Some businesses and publications attempted to overcome these difficulties by using email marketing. While this is a powerful tool, it has limitations of its own. The dramatic increase in spam has made email lists a somewhat less accurate means of distributing information than is posting it to a website. Furthermore, browsers are much more capable of displaying the rich content found on the web than are typical email clients.
RSS solves all of these problems quite handily. Content from parts of websites that change frequentlyâ€”news, event listings, etc.–is encoded in a special format. Files in this format can be subscribed to, and changes from a variety of sites can be automatically collected in a single place. No more does someone need to regularly visit your site to know your latest news or events. Instead, this content is delivered directly to their desktops and is completely opt-in, thus ensuring that those to whom you are communicating wish to receive your messages.
RSS also opens up entirely new areas of possibility for individuals, organizations or businesses. For instance, files can be attached to each update and in some instances are downloaded directly to each viewer’s computer. This technology has given rise to podcasting, a method by which audio and video content can be automatically delivered across the internet for viewing on desktops, iPods and a growing array of media playback devices. This places tools for audio and video delivery, formerly only available to mass media broadcasters, into the hands of just about anyone with a message to share.
Most importantly, RSS isn’t a fringe technology requiring specialized knowledge to use. Instead, it is integrated into almost every available weblog and content management system platform. In fact, it is quite likely that you are already creating RSS feeds and simply aren’t aware of it, as the process is so tightly integrated with your normal publishing procedures.
In many ways, RSS technology has leveled the playing field. No longer must sites keep readers constantly engaged and actively coming back for more, as information is passively sent out without effort. Furthermore, no longer are audio and video broadcast technologies only available to those with the budgets necessary simply to send a signal. If you have a message to share and are not actively aware of and using RSS, then you’re missing out on a major means of connecting with those who may be interested in receiving it.