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Shared RSS - Syndication for the Rest of Us


2004-10-13

By Andrew J. Morris

RSS Syndication or RSS Newsfeeds (RSS Feeds for short) all refer to the same thing. There are two parts to the process, the publisher, and the consumer. The publisher produces a small text file in a special format that lists the title and address of an article or resource published on the World Wide Web. The consumer uses a program, usually called an aggregator to read and display the contents of that simple text file, with links to the web page. Or the consumer may visit a website that includes an aggregator program, and view the results as a web page. Members of Yahoo.com, for example, can set their personal 'My Yahoo' pages to display the contents of any RSS feeds they select.

That is all there is to it. Simple. That's why some people say RSS stands for 'Really Simple Syndication.'

Some confusion has arisen because an RSS feed may be used in several ways. Calling it a 'newsfeed' is the first mistake, since RSS is used for much more than news. The most common situation is for the RSS items listed to have a short title, link to the original web page referred to, and a short description of the contents of that web page. But other people are including the complete contents of their resource directly in the RSS feed. So the feed may contain a graphic image of a cartoon, an entire post to a weblog (or blog), or the complete contents of a newsletter, rather than just a link back to those resources on a web site. Other sites leave out the description, and just list titles linked back to their website. And some versions of RSS allow you to leave out the title, so long as you have a description.

Speaking of 'versions' of RSS, that is the source of even more confusion. RSS began with version 0.90, and was called 'RDF Site Summary' -- the RDF refers to 'Resource Description Framework,' the method of labeling different parts of the file. This early version was updated and changed through various incarnations, including 0.91, 0.92, 0.93 and 0.94, and they began to call RSS 'Really Simple Syndication.' Then someone came along with a different format, slightly more complicated, and called it RSS version 1.0. Supporters of version 0.94 didn't like the implication that 1.0 was somehow an advance on 0.94 when in actuality it was a completely different format, so they came up with version 2.0 which was an improved version of 0.94, but still unlike 1.0. Rather than take sides in all this squabbling, someone else came up with their own version and called it Atom, to distance themselves from the RSS battles. Someone else developed Blogrolls that use OPML (Outline Processor Markup Language). Most of these formats are either loosely or strictly based on XML, the parent mark-up scheme.

None of this confusion of method and purpose has helped spread this really useful tool. Most RSS aggregators can read any of these formats, so the situation is not as hopeless as it may seem, but many folks still throw the whole thing out when they can't figure out exactly how it is supposed to work.

On http://www.SharedRSS.com/ we use version 1.0 because it is endorsed by W3C as being supportive of the 'semantic web.' For the casual user however, the version is really not important. SharedRSS is a simple site that performs a very powerful function ... it brings the benefits of RSS syndication to all those who publish websites, but who add new material too infrequently to warrant having their own RSS feed.

RSS Syndication was designed to help people find out about new content on the web, long before the search engines get around to finding it. It makes it easy for people to find out about new content that interests them, without having to return to the search engines and wade through all the material they have seen before. For sites with frequently changing content, it has worked well for them to create their own RSS feed and update it as new content is added to their website. But what about all those sites that only add an occasional new article or story to their website, or who publish a newsletter once per month? Or those who just can't take the time to figure the ins and outs of formatting an RSS feed? An RSS feed that only gets updated once every few months is of little value; very few people will add it to their search list in their aggregator. Shared RSS solves this problem by lumping together articles from different sites covering the same topic, and lets them announce the availability of their new material in a feed shared with others publishing on the same topic. This makes the feeds more useful to the consumer, so they are more likely to add the link to their aggregator. It benefits the publisher by making more people aware of their material as soon as it is put on-line.

About The Author
Andrew J. Morris is the owner and creator of SharedRSS -- a website that allows all website owners to syndicate their newly added material for FREE. http://www.sharedrss.com/



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