Introduction to RSS

  • May 6, 2004
  • Read 54,299 times

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. RSS
  3. Why would I want to use RSS?
  4. RSS Software and RSS Feed Sites
  5. Conclusion


You may have noticed when browsing Bleeping Computer that there are these little orange RSS buttons all over the place that look like . You may haved wondered what these were and, being an adventurous sort, you click on them and your screen becomes filled with strange codes that make no sense to you. I know you are confused, but there really is a good reason for these buttons. These buttons are called RSS feeds and they can make your life much easier. Don't believe me? Then continue reading to learn what RSS is and how it can help you.


A common practice among blogs and news sites is to syndicate their content. Web syndication is when content from a web site is made available for other sites or remote applications to use. The most common method for web syndication is to use a protocol called Really Simple Syndication or more commonly known as RSS. RSS is a protocol that allows web sites to make their content, or portions of their content, available to other other sites or applications.

When a web site syndicates content using RSS they create RSS feeds or channels. The channels are usually created in such a way that they cover a particular subject. For example, each of the forums in the Bleeping Computer forums section has its own individual RSS feed or channel as shown at our RSS Page. Each forum is a separate channel as they all have a different subject matter. That is not to say that a web site could not create a RSS feed that covered many subjects, because they could, but it would not be the most efficient way of creating their feeds. This is because people who use RSS use it to find specific subject matter that they want to learn or read about. If a web site publishes an RSS feed that covers many subjects, that person may not use that feed because they would have to search through all the information in the feed to find what they want.

Currently there are two standards for RSS that are being created at the same time. These two standards are Really Simple Syndication (RSS 0.9x/RSS 2.x) and RDF Site Summary (RSS 1.0). They are both similar in nature and use XML to create the feeds, but there are subtle differences that can change how you use them. Because these standards are being created in parallel, a third standard is being created to clear the confusion that this has caused called Atom. Fortunately, most current RSS feed programs support all of the standards so you do not need to worry about what version will work with your software.

Why would I want to use RSS?

Now that you understand what RSS is, you are probably wondering why you would to use it. The answer is simple! To save you time and effort in finding the information and news that is specifically relevant to your interests. RSS allows you to subscribe to feeds that pertain to subjects that interest you. You can then have all these feeds aggregated into one location, such as a web site or software application, where you can view it quickly and in an organized manner.

A common use of RSS feeds is to import data from another web site into your own. For example, lets say that you want to add news items to your site, but do not have the resources to gather or create this news. By using RSS you can instead add news to your site by importing it from another site that has syndicated their content using RSS. This saves you time and energy because you do not have to create the content yourself, but can use someone elses. Note that if you do add someone's syndicated content to your site, it goes without saying that you should give credit back to the originating site.

For personal use, you can use something called a feed aggregator. These are pieces of software that allow you to subscribe to various feeds you find throughout the Internet and aggregate them into one location, namely the software that you are using. Then when you start the software, and have it check for new updates, your software will connect to all these feeds and download any new information and display it to you. This allows you to have all the news or resources that interests you from your favorites web sites organized into one location where you can easily see if there is new content to be read. A good example is if you frequent 10 different message boards and they have RSS feeds for the forums on them, you can add their RSS feeds to your aggregator and see any new topics that are posted without having to visit each of these sites!! Then when reading a particular entry, if you actually want to go to the site, you can click on the link that will be shown with the news item.

Can you see how this saves you time? You can now see your favorite news, posts, topics, information, headlines, or any other syndicated material from one location instead of having to visit each and every site independently!

RSS Aggregators and RSS Feed Sites

Below is a brief list of RSS aggregators, some free, that you can try:

For a complete list of RSS Aggregators you can check out the News Aggregator Section  page on Wikipedia.

Now that you have the software to aggregate your news feeds, you may be wondering how to find feeds to subscribe to. The easiest way is it visit a site you frequent and look for the or icons, or links that say RSS, RDF, Atom, or Syndication. These generally signify a RSS feed. If you can not find a link on the web site, you can also check the following links for RSS feeds:

These sites contain huge databases of RSS feeds that you can link to.


By using RSS you can save your valuable time as well as organize the news and information offered by various sites into a central point in which to view it. Hopefully now when you go to a site and see one of those funny orange buttons you now know what they mean and can use them to your advantage.

Lawrence Abrams
Bleeping Computer Internet Basic Concepts Tutorial Computer Support & Tutorials for the beginning computer user.

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