What is RSS?
RSS or Really Simple Syndication is a method for, well, syndicating content. RSS files are no more than specially crafted XML (eXtensible Markup Language) files. They include items with usually a description and content and possibly other data such as author, date and a link to the actual content. Content is usually an article, forum post or blog entry, but can be simple page changes to more complex audio or video objects usually referred to as podcast. You should also know that RSS is some times referred to as XML, as that is the underlying technology or as RDF. Content may referred to as a feed, a stream or a channel. A few common icons to indicate RSS are , and , though others are in use as well.
How will this help me?
RSS allows everyone from a web publisher to a blogger to deliver content directly to the end user â€” you. This save you the time and effort of visiting sites, blogs, forums and other web resources to see if there are any updates. You can stay current on events, news, and other content you find interesting. Your a sports nut? Try the ESPN Headline Feed. Collect coffee cups? A ebay search feed might be what you want. Maybe you want to be informed of the latest Firefox plug-ins . Or you want to know when 3Monkeys makes a new post. All of these and many, many more are available through RSS feeds.
How do I use these feeds?
By themselves, RSS feeds are rather cryptic as viewed in most browsers, that is due to the fact that they are intended to be used by other software. This software comes in several flavors, most notably aggregators and tickers. Aggregators either are stand-alone programs or integrate into a browser, mail client or other application, often called an extension, plug-in or add-on. Tickers come in the same flavors. One of these options will allow you to make use of the various RSS resource available on the Internet.
What is an aggregator?
Aggregators collect RSS feeds and display content in an easily readable form. Firefox, allows for Live Bookmarks, which essentially makes a bookmark group that is constantly populated by an RSS feed. Viewing the RSS feed is as simple as navigating the bookmark group. New feeds can be added by clicking the a icon in the address bar for sites that syndicate a RSS feed. Another option is the Firefox InfoRSS extension, which uses the sidebar for feed listing. Many RSS Aggregators can be found for Linux, Windows, Mac and in general.
How about tickers?
I personally use a a ticker for the majority of my RSS content. Specifically, I use the RSS Ticker, extension for Firefox. This displays RSS feed item titles in a scrolling bar either along the bottom or below the address bar. Feeds updates are configurable to certain time intervals and the content can be opened in the current window or a new tab. I can open a single item, all items in a feed or simply all items. Having the ticker just below the status line is unobtrusive and allows me to glance down and scan between coding sessions, picking out those interesting articles. RSS Ticker uses Firefox’s Live Bookmarks as it source which means no extra work for me on adding feeds. Pretty cool.
Is this a fad?
Thousands upon thousands of sites use RSS today, with more starting each and everyday. More mainstream users are beginning to understand its usefulness every day and subscribing to various feeds of interest. With RSS, information on the Internet becomes easier to find, and web developers can spread their information easily. So No! RSS is not a fad, in fact it will be an essential part of the web for the immediate future, that is until the next break-through technology comes along.