RSS feeds: definitions and uses

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RSS feeds: definitions and uses

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Generally speaking, RSS (Rich Site Summary, or Really Simple Syndication) can be defined as one of the most popular formats for distributing web contents. From a technical point of view, however, an RSS feed is simply an XML file that contains structured information on the page it is linked to and on the contents of the page.

The principle behind RSS is simple: many websites, especially blogs, forums, press sites and portals, include an RSS feed on their pages that displays constantly-updated news headlines and stories. If a user is interested, he can subscribe to a news reader, indicating the content he wants to receive. The news reader will constantly check for, and display, new stories.

RSS feeds offer a number of important advantages:

a user saves time: the news reader looks for new stories for him;
some news readers will show the news in text-only format, so that it can be viewed on mobile phones;
the RSS mechanism lets people put together a made-to-measure website.
Click to expand/collapseAbout RSS

The RSS format was launched by Netscape in 1999, originally for use on the My portal.  A second, simpler version was produced in the same year and then Netscape abandoned it.

The format was taken up by Dave Winer to use for his Userland content management software, and another group of developers started work on another syndication format based on RDF, one of the standard languages of W3C, and the specifications for RSS 1.0 were released at the end of 2000.

Winer carried on his own developments and published his RSS 2.0 in 2002. To differentiate his new version from the previous rel 1.0 of other developers, he changed the meaning of the acronym to "Really Simple Syndication".

At present, therefore, there are two versions of RSS that do practically the same things. Basically, RSS 2.0 is the more simple of the two, but RSS 1.0 is richer.

Fortunately, the end-user doesn't have to worry about all these different versions: news readers read all of them! The problem is for those who produce feeds: which version is best for them?

Click to expand/collapseThe news readers

News readers are programs that aggregate, interpret and display data written and distributed in a dialect of XML.

News readers have a lot in common with e-mail programs, using an interface that we are all used to for our e-mails. You usually see a list of your feed subscriptions in the top left. Select one and a list of headlines is shown in the top right. Underneath you have the content. Articles are indicated as "Read" or "Not Read".

Once you have subscribed to a feed, you open the news reader, download any updates and read the contents, just like e-mail.

News readers can be downloaded from the Internet, although a number of browsers now offer the same service: both Microsoft and Mozilla have integrated news reader functions into the latest versions of their browsers (Internet Explorer 7 and Mozilla Firefox 2.0) which display the contents of a feed in a much more user-friendly fashion than normal (already present on Apple's Safari). These browsers also have an autodiscovery link, which finds RSS and Atom feeds inside a website and informs the user.

Click to expand/collapseHow and where to find feeds to subscribe to

These icons are often used to indicate the presence of feeds you can subscribe to:

Sometimes, you may see the word "Syndication".

Usually there is a simple link to the RSS document. To subscribe to a feed you have to extract the URL (rightclick on the image > copy link) and paste it into the field that every program has for adding a new feed.

Click to expand/collapseRSS feeds in WebSite X5

You can create and manage RSS feeds in WebSite X5 without worrying about code. Only some general parameters are required and some news articles to propose. The Program produces the XML files automatically, using the RSS 2.0 format.

When an RSS feed is open, you can make it available on the website by adding a link or a button (similar to those above), maybe putting it in the header. Use WebSite X5's link in the Link window to create the button.