RSS for beginners Part 1 - Why RSS?

If you don't know what RSS is, but you do like the idea of having your own personal space on the internet which delivers all the news you *want* rather than having to go look for it, then this guide is for you!

If you're just a casual reader of the internet, you may not have acquainted yourself with RSS and how RSS feed readers work. So I'm going to do a series of posts looking at how to get started, and what some of the more popular feed readers are. Follow the link to get started!

One of the advantages of using an RSS reader is that you can divide up your internet reading - say for example into the sites you regularly need to check for work, keeping the personal stuff separate so it doesn't tempt you into timewasting at work!

There are different options for how you'd like to read your RSS feed too - you'll be able to decide whether you want to read them through your email program, through your web browser, or through a web portal like iGoogle or My Yahoo! There are some really easy options out there, which I'll talk you through in this series.

Let's start by answering some basic questions.

Why RSS? Why not just go directly to the web page you want to read?

Well, the point of RSS is to have one central, personalised page which shows you all the latest updates to the sites you like to read, whether they're blogs, news headlines, or even podcasts. Once you've set up your own RSS feed (don't worry, it's easy and I'll talk you through it), you've basically automated the process of checking your favourite websites to see what's new there - because all the new stuff will appear on your RSS reader.

The beauty of RSS is that you don't have to keep visiting My Cat Hates You every day to see if they've put up new photos - as soon as that website is updated, the new content will appear in your RSS reader. This is especially good for websites that you love but aren't updated very often - because you don't have to worry about remembering to check in on them - as soon as they've posted, you'll see it on your RSS feed.

But what is RSS? RSS stands for "Really Simple Syndication". There are a number of RSS web feed formats which are used to publish content such as blog entries or news headlines, so they can be read in the centralised, personalised format that I mentioned. It's been set up for websites which are frequently updated, like blogs and news websites. So if you subscribe to the ABC news RSS feed, you won't be getting the front page of the ABC website, but rather a package of their news updates as they post them. RSS documents can also be called "feeds" "web feeds" or "news feeds" but they all refer to the same thing. You'll find that most blogs and news websites will have a little orange RSS logo on their site to let you know that you can receive their updates via RSS. Here's an example from our very own site: syndication_eg.png

What's an RSS reader?

RSS content can be read using software called a "feed reader" or an "aggregator." Basically this is how you read RSS content, just as your email software is how you read emails. You subscribe to a feed by entering the feed's link into your chosen reader or by clicking an RSS icon on a webpage, which will begin the subscription process for you. Once you've subscribed to a feed, the reader will check regularly for new content and download it for you as it arrives.

Partial or full? As you see from the image above, many sites (including yours truly, Lifehacker AU) offer a choice between full syndication or partial syndication. Full syndication means that the RSS feed contains the whole blog entry from the website in question. Everything that appears on the original site comes through on the RSS feed. Partial syndication means that only the first paragraph or so will appear on your RSS feed - and you'll need to click on the link to go through to the original site to finish reading. Some websites like to use partial feeds to force people to click through from their RSS feed directly to their site. Often this is because their advertising revenue is based on how many visitors their site gets. But some people find partial feeds annoying (which is why we give you a choice!).

Stay tuned til tomorrow That's it for today - I hope I've whet your appetite to start learning about how to start using an RSS reader and create your own RSS feed. Tomorrow I'll talk you through how to set up and start using a web-based RSS reader. If you have any specific questions you'd like answered, please leave them in the comments!


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