RSS (Bryan's Individual Project)
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Introduction to RSS

RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is a web syndication format that connects users to the information they care about from across the Internet. The history of RSS, as well as the key figures involved in its creation, are important to consider. RSS is significant because of its applications for news and media organizations, among many other industries. Subscribing to RSS is quick and easy for most users. Like all Internet services and products, RSS has strengths and weaknesses. Finally, it's important to think about the future of RSS in the modern Internet.

In terms of the Metaverse Roadmap, RSS fits best into the lifelogging category, given its focus on the systematic collection of records and data. For more information on technologies similar to RSS, consult the wiki pages for Read-It-Later applications; Delicious; Digg; Instapaper; and Pocket.


What is RSS?

Big picture

RSS is a tool that allows online publishers to syndicate (i.e. network, distribute) content to users through RSS feeds.1 Users can subscribe to the RSS feeds of the web pages they want to receive updates from. Users will also need a piece of software known as a reader or aggregator, which will process and organize the information from the RSS feeds they are following.2 Among the most significant impacts of RSS is the way this technology has changed how people access information. Before RSS, users had to actively seek their news and information from individual web pages, which was time-consuming and tedious. RSS fixed this problem by providing users with a centralized hub of information and content from their favorite web pages, thereby saving people a significant amount of time and energy.

Technical considerations

RSS feeds run on XML, or EXtensible Markup Language.3 XML is significant because it provides the backbone for the main function of RSS, which is to deliver information in a timely manner. Specifically, XML structures, stores, and transports data, with a focus on what data is.4 Other languages, like HTML, display data, with a focus on how data looks. Since XML doesn't display data, it's important for users to have a reader or aggregator to process and display RSS feeds correctly.


What is the history of RSS?

The history of RSS technology is interesting, and it is important to consider the key figures who helped build this tool. The following timeline incorporates data from the RSS Advisory Board5 and W3 Schools.6

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  • 1997: Dave Winer, an American software developer, created Scripting News, a blog with an XML syndication format. Scripting News, which still exists, was the forerunner of RSS technology. At the time, Winer worked for a software company called UserLand.
  • 1999: Netscape engineer Ramanathan Guha released RSS 0.90, which supported Scripting News and incorporated an RDF header. RDF, or Resource Description Framework, is a framework for describing resources on the web (computers read RDF headers).7
  • 1999: Winer created the second version of Scripting News, which included features from Netscape's RSS 0.90 release.
  • 1999: Netscape developed RSS 0.91. Netscape removed the RDF header but kept most of the features from Winer's second version of Scripting News.
  • 1999: UserLand discontinued their use of the Scripting News program and began to use RSS 0.91. Netscape stopped working on RSS shortly thereafter.
  • 2000: UserLand released the RSS 0.91 specification. The software company also copyrighted the specification.8
  • 2000: Winer created RSS 0.92.
  • 2002: Winer developed RSS 2.0.
  • 2002: UserLand released the RSS 2.0 specification.
  • 2003: Version 2.0.1 of the RSS 2.0 specification comes out. Harvard Law School copyrighted the specification and "froze" it, which meant no outside parties could make significant changes to the RSS format.

RSS technology is available under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike license.9 Pursuant to this license, users may share and adapt the RSS technology for any purpose, provided that: users give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if they made changes and distribute their contributions under the same license as the original technology if they remix, transform, or build upon the material.10


How does RSS work?

Subscribing to RSS feeds and using an aggregator/reader is generally quick and easy. The following steps show an average user how RSS technology works. The background source for these steps is a Digital Trends article from July 2012.11

1. Establish an Internet connection.
2. Navigate to your favorite web site(s). Many web pages have an "RSS link" at the bottom. Click this link to access a list of RSS feeds.

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3. Subscribe to as many RSS feeds as you'd like. News organizations like the New York Times often feature a large number of feeds, ranging from domestic news, to sports, to culture and lifestyle. Sometimes you'll have to copy and paste the URL of the RSS feed into your reader to subscribe; other times, you'll just have to click on the RSS (i.e. orange) icon.

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4. Make sure you have a reliable reader/aggregator installed. Your reader/aggregator will translate the RSS feeds (remember, they're XML files) into clear, readable content. Until Google discontinued the product in 2013, Google Reader was a popular RSS reader/aggregator with a loyal following.12 However, there are still a number of great alternatives for both desktop and mobile use. These alternatives include Feedly, Digg Reader, NewsBlur, Pulse, and Flipboard.13 Pictured below: my Feedly stream.

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5. Enjoy!


What are its strengths and weaknesses?

RSS has a number of strengths and weaknesses, which are important to consider. Background sources here14 and here.15

Strengths

  • Saves time
  • Provides timely and relevant updates
  • Highly individualized/personalized content
  • Users don't have to release personal information like email address
  • Less spam and unsolicited content

Weaknesses

  • Legal disputes over content ownership
  • May be difficult for publishers to drive traffic to their pages
  • RSS requires significant bandwidth (periodic downloads)

Are there similar tools? What is the future of RSS?

Shortly after Harvard Law School "froze" the specification to the RSS 2.0 format, technologists discussed building a new product that would address the deficiencies of RSS.16 The result was a tool called Atom, which, in many ways, provides a more robust framework than RSS.17 For more detailed information regarding how RSS and Atom differ, please see this web page.18 Both RSS and Atom are active in the marketplace today. It is also important to think about the future of RSS and related technologies. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter offer users the ability to follow their favorite content creators and sort information, much like RSS readers. Accordingly, it will be interesting to see whether social media and other tools will force RSS technologies out of competition in the near future.


More information

Please watch the short video below to learn more about RSS technology.19


References