Written on Monday, May 07, 2007 by Gemini
INTRODUCTION TO "RSS"
The confusion over what RSS actually stands for – some say ‘Rich Site Summary’, others say ‘RDF Site Summary’, the favourite is ‘Really Simple Syndication’ – is symptomatic of a technology that has only just emerged.
Until recently this lack of maturity - involving differing standards and low levels of integration - was a deterrent to its adoption by large corporations. But recent announcements show this is changing fast. Industry heavyweights, both on the web tools and content sides, are now incorporating RSS into their mainstream offerings.
News leaked out last month that Microsoft’s Internet Explorer version 7.0 will include a built-in RSS reader. Other browsers - Mozilla’s Firefox and Opera - already offer RSS as a standard feature. Microsoft had moved decisively towards adoption of RSS when, in mid-March, it began testing a Web-based RSS aggregator incorporated within MSN. This came hard on the heals of its decision to add RSS aggregation within My MSN personal home page (fed by Moreover Technologies). Yahoo and Ask Jeeves are already incorporating RSS features within their services.
Such integration is one vital precursor for widespread corporate uptake of RSS. The other is the general availability of RSS-formatted content. This has also now happened. Most major news publishers are now offering access to RSS feeds including Reuters, the Wall Street Journal, the BBC, the Financial Times and the New York Times.
The final barrier to the general uptake of RSS within corporations was the threatened emergence of two competing standards - RSS and Atom. Companies were cautious about finding themselves on the wrong side of the technology debate. But the adoption by Microsoft of RSS has now settled any uncertainty about which of the two will prevail. While the supporters of Atom may claim their format is more flexible, the decision by Microsoft to take the RSS route has settled the issue, at least from the corporate-user perspective. The scene is now set for RSS to achieve widespread acceptance as a multi-purpose tool within the daily workflow of corporations.
HOW DOES "RSS" WORK?
The technology behind RSS is well tested, having emerged from Netscape in 1997. RSS is an XML format that describes a channel of information. This contains titles and links that lead back to an original article. Typically the XML document is made available on a web server and can be pulled down by an RSS reader (sometimes called an aggregator).
In the case of document authors, once they have published their content online − usually to a website or blog −they are required to create an RSS file (also called an RSS feed) which includes headlines, links, summaries and, sometimes, the full text. The publisher then creates the link to the RSS file on his or her website and advertises the fact, usually with an orange RSS or XML button. Most blogging tools automate the RSS feed creation process.
To access an RSS feed it is necessary to have access to an RSS reader. Users can either utilize the readers provided as standard in browsers or portals or download one separately. Some of the most popular are provided by NewsGator, FeedDemon, Bloglines and Pluck.
Once the user has opened the link to the RSS feed, the reader will automatically add the feed to a list of feeds subscribed to by the user. The reader then automatically rechecks the RSS files in the user’s list − according to a schedule defined by the user − to see whether new content has been added. In some readers an alerting feature flags that new content is available.
Estimates of the number of live feeds available vary widely, but it is thought to be somewhere between 5 and 10 million – and growing fast. The momentum now exists for all internet-based publishers to start utilising the format.