I’ve been asked to write an introduction to RSS, in less than 600 words, for a general audience. It’s been an interesting exercise. My current working draft:
RSS: A Love Story
I’m no techie, so I guess I thought I’d never be one to fall under the spell of a tag-based formatting language. I thought wrong. Ever since RSS came into my life, it’s as if all the other code protocols ceased to exist. Oh sure, I had fun with HTML (we’re still good friends), and I think fondly of my flirtations with XML. But it took XML’s cousin RSS to really show what a standard text format could mean to me. Now I pass the hours idly daydreaming about RSS… see strings of its code billowing in the clouds, catch myself doodling RSS logos inside little hearts on my notebook cover. I’m smitten, and I think if you got to know my new flame you might feel the same way about RSS that I do.
Why do I love RSS? Let me count the ways…RSS saves me time: RSS started out as a means for “syndicating” news feeds from online publishers to readers. You’ve probably seen RSS used by the newswire or stock ticker services of online newspapers.
But the real power of RSS to the user comes via the RSS reader. A newsreader automatically delivers customized news to your desktop, and alerts you to updates on your favorite web sites without you having to visit them first. Unlike a discussion group, you don’t need to join a list, or endure a flood of e-mail messages clogging up your inbox. Once you’ve “subscribed” to an RSS feed (usually a quick copy and paste operation), the summarized material appears within the interface of the newsreader, and is automatically updated at regular intervals.
Simply put, the RSS reader is the coolest application for gathering information from the Internet to come along since the web browser. See for yourself — I recommend the following free newsreaders, though there are many, many options available:
RSS is the strong, simple type: Like I said before, I’m no techie, but every programmer I know raves about how simple it is to publish an RSS feed from a website. The learning object repository CAREO, a version of which is about to be launched at UBC, added customizable RSS feeds to its existing system in about one hour of programming time. Sites like MyRSS allow readers to add RSS feeds to virtually any site that interests them — even if it’s not their site!
For those interested in adding RSS feeds to a website: RSS Workshop
RSS has improved my social life: This is where RSS goes from simply being a useful protocol and becomes something that I can really love. Because most weblog (personal publishing) systems support RSS feeds, communities of like-minded webloggers can keep close tabs on each other’s postings via their newsreaders. RSS is the glue that binds these communities together. If you want to learn more, or better yet join the fray, check out David Wiley’s great introduction, A beginner’s guide to joining the instructional technology blog scene.
My stomach goes all a-flutter when I imagine how RSS might work with communities at UBC, such as faculty members who want a way to track developments and new resources in their field. They can also use RSS to easily import automatically updated news stories or learning resources into their WebCT courses, or any other web page. Doing just that was one of my first torrid flings with RSS, which I wrote about on my own weblog.
I could go on and on about all of the things that make RSS so dreamy. Like, how people can’t even agree on what RSS stands for. Some say it is “Rich Site Summary”, others claim it should be “Real Simple Syndication.” How mysterious! I say, RSS makes my online experience so much better, who cares what it stands for? Love is blind.