April 4, 2020

What Are RSS Feeds and Why Should I Care?

Chances are that you have seen the three-letter “RSS” acronym while browsing the Internet. But exactly is it? RSS stands for Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication (syndication is the republishing of an article from another source, in this instance usually a website).

RSS is a method of distributing updates about website content. It may include a summary and photos of the site’s latest posting. Feeds that provide summaries (hence “Rich Site Summary”) allow readers to scan the article to decide if they want to access the original source. RSS feeds normally include the title of the update and link to the originating website.

RSS is beneficial to both readers and publishers. They provide readers with the latest updates, whether it’s national or local news feeder, weather, music, games or a favorite blogger. Updates are received as soon as they are published. Readers have a choice as to which websites to subscribe and can change their selections at any time.

RSS also provides readers with a time management tool. Since RSS feeds deliver a summary of the related article, it saves time by allowing readers to decide if they want to follow-up and access the source website. Another benefit is RSS feeds decrease the amount of clutter in a reader’s inbox. While email addresses are required to access online RSS aggregators, RSS does not use email to deliver updates. As a result, feeds are spam free.

Unlike email-based subscriptions, unsubscribing to an RSS feed is quick and hassle-free. Terminating an email subscription normally requires subscribers to go the website and answer questions about why they are unsubscribing before confirming their decision. With RSS, all the reader has to do is delete the feed from their aggregator.

The disadvantages of RSS are relatively minor and often the result of user or supplier preference. For example, some users simply prefer receiving email instead of RSS feeds. One reason is that graphics and photos don’t always accompany feeds (except for some web-based aggregators). Additionally, since the technology is still fairly new, a reader’s preferred websites may not support RSS.

A disadvantage to publishers is they cannot determine how many readers are subscribed to their feed, their frequency of visits or reason for unsubscribing.

RSS and Internet Marketing

The concept of RSS originated with Netscape for the purpose of providing users with a way to customize their personal homepage with links to websites that interest them, now similar to bookmarking a website. Use of the application for internet marketing was an unexpected development.

Since users are given the freedom to add RSS feeds to their aggregators, consumers who are interested in particular products or services can now receive instant communication from suppliers. The result is targeted marketing at its easiest that benefits consumers and businesses. Readers who subscribe to product or service websites can receive the latest news and updates without the spam that often accompanies email subscriptions. Providers benefit from targeted marketing since subscribers are normally consumers who are interested in their products or services.

So how do you start using RSS? You need two things to begin receiving feeds: the RSS feed itself, and an RSS aggregator or reader. The RSS feed comes from an RSS-supported website (an Internet search will produce a list of RSS feeds from different websites). An RSS aggregator is used to read the feed from the source website. It scans, collects and delivers the latest data.

An aggregator comes in two forms: a downloadable program and an online or web-based aggregator. Downloadable aggregators may require a purchase payment, while internet-based aggregators are normally free. All you need to do is register an account to use the services. Both versions allow you to customize or choose which RSS feeds to enter.

Getting Started

If RSS is new to you, choosing a web-based aggregator may be the best choice due to ease of use. When visiting a preferred website, search the homepage for an RSS or XML button. It contains the RSS code that you will need to enter in your aggregator. This is usually as simple as copying and pasting the code containing the URL of the website into your aggregator.

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