What is RSS? It’s auto-magic syndication of web content. In simple terms, it’s a means to get information delivered to you from sources you trust/enjoy, so you don’t have to go searching for it. Think of it like a magazine subscription, which saves you the trouble of having to go out to the store to pick up the new issue each month.
What do the letters stand for? The history of RSS, as one reference put it, is “a confusing mess,” but the major highlights, and the evolution of the name are as follows:
- Dan Libby and Ramanathan Guha of Netscape create RSS 0.90 and release it in March 1999 for the My.Netscape.com portal. RSS = RDF Site Summary.
- Dan Libby simplifies the format, drops RDF elements, and releases a 0.91 in July 1999. RSS = Rich Site Summary.
- Dave Winer of UserLand Software releases RSS 0.92 in 2000 with minor changes, incorporating audio content.
- In 2002, Dave Winer releases RSS 2.0 with major changes and a new name. RSS = Really Simple Syndication.
Still awake? Let’s talk about how it works.
The key elements of RSS are a feed and a reader. The feed is generated by the original source, say CNN.com. The reader is web, desktop or mobile device-based software that provides a user interface for you to read the content. Google Reader is one example.
The source generates a standardized XML file containing RSS tags, which tell readers how to display the information. When a user subscribes to an RSS feed, their reader begins regularly checking subscriptions for new content. When new content is found, the reader populates itself with that information.
What’s the big deal? By using a standardized format, all kinds of content can be displayed in a similar fashion in many different places. RSS is great for staying on top of your favorite blogs and websites, but it’s also what’s behind podcasts. When you subscribe to a podcast you’re actually subscribing to an RSS feed, just in a slightly different format with your iTunes account as the reader.