What Is RSS?

ByABC News
September 15, 2004, 2:27 PM

  -- Web site operators and savvy online users are beginning to manage the flood of information in cyberspace using a technology called RSS. Here are some answers to commonly asked questions.

What Is RSS?

Depending on who you ask, RSS stands for either "Rich Site Summary" or "Really Simple Syndication." But no matter what it's called, RSS is a new way to publish information online.

At the heart of the technology is special Web coding, called XML, that has been widely developed by the global online community over the past few years.

The XML code for RSS describes a new type of Web information called a "news feed." Essentially, the feeds can contain a summary and links of the new content on a Web site or anything else a creator desires to share. A company may publish an RSS feed that contains news of its latest products, for example.

Anyone an online surfer or another Web site can pick up the RSS codes and with the appropriate Web software display the information automatically.

The concept is similar to how a newswire service operates: Information published by one news organization can be "syndicated" picked up and displayed by any other news organization.

What Does RSS Mean for Web Site Publishers?

Through syndication, online content creators have a much easier way to get their information published and seen. For instance, a Web surfer who sees an RSS feed say a ticker of top news stories on one site might click on the content, which in turn drives more traffic back to the original Web site.

RSS can also be a way for Web sites to retain "loyalty" among visitors. By supplying the RSS code on the Web site, visitors can "subscribe" to the feed and automatically receive updates on their personal computers of new content on the site.

Such an RSS feed will free content creators from creating and sending e-mail reminders many of which may be stopped by anti-spam filters.

Why Would Ordinary Web Users Like RSS?

For Web surfers, the advantages of RSS are quite simple: They save time and bandwidth.

Instead of remembering to visit a favorite Web site, the news comes directly into your computer daily or at whatever interval you want.

What's more, most RSS feeds contain just links, headlines or brief synopsis of new information only. That means the small amount of Web data can be sent to any XML-compatible device a cell phone, pager or handheld computer without a lengthy download process.

More importantly, RSS gives you control over receiving information you want without revealing information about yourself. Unlike subscribing to an e-mail newsletter, you never have to give out your e-mail address with an RSS feed. That avoids the possibility of receiving spam or unwanted junk e-mail from the Web site.

Which Online Sites Use RSS?

For now, many technology-oriented Web sites such as C|net.com, LockerGnome.com and Slashdot.org, offer RSS feeds to satisfy the crowds of computer "geeks" online.

You'll also find some Weblogs or online diaries run by savvy individuals also offer RSS feeds.

Even online portal sites such as Yahoo! (news.yahoo.com/rss) are getting into the RSS craze.

What Do I Need to Receive RSS Feeds?

First, you need a so-called feed reader. Performing a search for "RSS Feed Readers" in any major online search engine such as Google.com or Yahoo! will produce a slew of software options many of which are free or at little cost.

Once you've obtained a feed reader, subscribing to an RSS feed is as simple as looking for the appropriate XML code. Most Web sites that publish an RSS feed will display a tiny orange box or button labeled "RSS" or "XML."

Click the button and your Web browser typically goes to a page of cryptic code. Just copy the Web "address" or URL of that page and plug it into your feed reader. The software will then automatically retrieve and display that site's latest information.