Getting a Feel for RSS

One accepted definition of RSS is “Really Simple Syndication”. While not necessarily used in everyday language, the last word of RSS – “syndication” – should not be a foreign concept to people. What exactly is RSS?

Radio talk show hosts are often syndicated. Their shows are picked up by local radio stations, so that a host based in Los Angeles has airtime on a station in Orlando. Similarly, popular newspaper columnists are often syndicated – their columns are reprinted by a variety of local newspapers, making their writing often available to readers nationwide. From these examples, follows the first important element of syndication –

to magnify the effect of a thought or idea
by making it available to a much larger audience
.

Each week, a syndicated newspaper columnist writes new columns. These new columns are subsequently syndicated. Newspapers will then carry the most recent writings of their syndicated columnists throughout the week. The second important element of syndication –

to provide regular updates of new content.

In order for readers to keep up with their favorite nationally syndicated columnists, they must have access to some medium that will let them to read their latest columns. One of the easiest and most traditional ways to do that is to subscribe to a local newspaper. By subscribing, a reader will get the newspaper daily, having the option to read any available newest columns. The newspapers that are delivered may not be read by the subscribers. The subscriber may also find no new columns by a particular syndicated columnist. The third and final important element of syndication –

to give the ability to subscribe to and consume new content at leisure.

RSS works no differently than this example. When a blogger creates a new post, any good blogging platform automatically puts the new content into their RSS feed. Those that subscribe to the feed will see the updated content of the blog when viewing it in their preferred news reader. RSS though, is not just a technology for blogs. Mainstream media outlets like the Washington Post or Wall Street Journal also offer RSS feeds to breaking news and other new headlines.

With Google’s index of over 8 billion web page and Technorati’s claim that approximately 12,000 new blogs are created everyday, amongst other things, RSS is going to be a key tool in reading information on the web efficiently. As Seth Godin recently wrote in his free new ebook Who’s There?, “If there are twenty million blogs in the world and only 32 blogs in my RSS Readers, guess which ones get read first?”