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What is an RSS Feed?

written by: pearlofafrika•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 8/21/2009

RSS feeds are everywhere. You can't go to a site without seeing that little orange button. Find out the purpose of these buttons and why it's relevant to you.

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    rss You've probably seen this little orange button on your favorite news and blog sites, and wondered about its function. The orange button is a RSS feed button. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. Basically, you click on the RSS button to subscribe to a site and get notified whenever that site adds updates.

    How does RSS work?

    The process is a lot like TiVo. With TiVo, you select the TV program you want to watch, TiVo records it, and you watch it whenever you choose. With RSS feeds, you select a site, and whenever a new article is added, you are informed instantly and can read it whenever you choose. RSS feeds are coded and distributed in XML, which is basically a text file. You'll need an XML reader to decode and view the RSS feeds.

    Most people use web based RSS aggregators to view their subscriptions. An RSS aggregator is a program that collects all of your feeds into one location for quick, centralized viewing. A couple of popular RSS aggregators are Google Reader and Bloglines.

    To subscribe to a specific website, click on its RSS button. You will be given the option to subscribe with various RSS aggregators, or readers. Select the reader of your choice. Note that you will need to set up an account with the reader first.

    Why do you need RSS?

    Long ago, people used bookmarks to keep up with their favorite websites. If you're a bookmark junkie, you know it can be very tiring to manually go from one site to the next, to check for updates. RSS feeds restores your time, because you are made instantly aware of any and all updates from your favorite sites, without checking them one by one.

    If you are the owner of a blog or news site, you will need RSS for easy syndication. RSS will keep your viewership loyal, because it automatically brings your updates to them. Therefore, they won't forget to check your site, and miss updates. It's a necessary information tool for every serious web developer.

    How do you create RSS feeds?

    If you have a blog, chances are your blog has automatically configured this syndication. If you have created your website from scratch, or you have a site that doesn't have RSS feed built in, you can take advantage of services like FeedYes or Feed43 which converts your site into RSS feeds. It's less messy then configuring it yourself, and pretty much fool-proof. If you need to verify your feed, try FeedValidator.