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What is RSS? To begin with, it's one of those things everyone says is easy to understand. And it is, as soon as you have your own 'ah-ha' moment.
I think the easiest way to explain it is to walk you through an example of RSS in action. I'm not going to try to explain everything on the subject, but this should help get you started.
>> Let's sign you up for the Excess Voice RSS Feed
If you want to read the Excess Voice newsletter every two weeks you can either read it in your email inbox, or read it in your web browser.
You already know how it works when you subscribe to a newsletter via email. You sign up, hope the spam filters don't block some or all issues, and then read the newsletter in your email program, whatever that might be.
With RSS, instead of subscribing via email, you subscribe via a web page.
>> Let's walk through the subscription process
If you have a Yahoo! account, go to My Yahoo! and click through to the Add Content page. On the right side of the 'Find Content' area you will see a link that reads, Add RSS by URL.
Follow that link and, to add the Excess Voice RSS feed, simple paste this url into the field provided, http://www.excessvoice.com/excessfeed.xml (Don't click on this link. Cut and paste it.)
Now click the Add button and you're done.
If you don't use Yahoo!, register at Bloglines.com and follow the same process. Bloglines is a free service and is where I read all the RSS feeds to which I have subscribed.
>> What happens now?
Now, whenever you go to My Yahoo! or Bloglines, you will see when the Excess Voice feed has been updated. In Yahoo! it tells you how many hours or days ago the feed was updated. In Bloglines the feed name will appear in bold, and a number after the name tells you how many items within the feed have been updated since you last checked. (Bloglines is one of several similar services. It's just the one I found first and have used ever since.)
>> What you see...
When you check the Excess Voice feeds, you will see that with each feed, you don't get the complete content...you don't see the whole newsletter, the complete article or all of the review. You see the title and the first ten lines or so of content. Just enough so you can decide if you are interested or not.
If you want to read the whole article, for example, click on the link provided and you will be taken to the page on the Excess Voice site where I have published the complete item.
Meanwhile, here is what I am doing behind the scenes to deliver this information
I added one new document to the root folder of my web site on the server. It's an XML file, "excessfeed.xml" (no need to know what that is).
Within this XML file I include the necessary coding and the preview text and links you see in My Yahoo! or Bloglines.
Whenever I add a new article, review or newsletter to my site, I update the content in this XML file and upload it to my server.
Yahoo! and Bloglines will periodically check that XML file so see if it has been updated. If it has, they let you know in the ways I described above.
I can decide how many feeds I want to create and how many items to have within each feed. I can even add small images. And I can schedule when the feeds are updated. For instance, with my newsletter, I send out the newsletter broadcast at the same time as I upload the revised XML file. So it is published by email and on the web at the same time.
>> How do I do all this XML coding?
What's XML? I have no idea. I use a WYSIWYG software tool called FeedForAll. It provides me with a simple interface that enables me to create, format, edit and upload my feeds.
>> As an information seeker...now you can go RSS crazy
Once you get the idea and have chosen your preferred RSS Reader (Yahoo!, Bloglines etc), you can subscribe to dozens of different feeds...news, newsletters, articles, blogs and more.
Sign up with one click, and unsubscribe with one click (No more newsletter unsubscribe hassles.)
>> As a publisher...gain more readers
More and more people are turning to RSS. They use it instead of subscribing to newsletters. They also use it to choose which elements of content they want to hear about from various sites.
>> As a webmaster...publish tons of fresh, updated content
Yes, if you have a website, you can have RSS content delivered directly to your site. You want the latest art and culture news from the BBC showing on your site, automatically updated? No problem. Hence the 'Syndication' in RSS - Really Simple Syndication.
>> In conclusion...
This brief explanation isn't intended to tell you everything there is to know about RSS. But I hope I have covered enough to give you your own 'ah-ha' moment.
Nick Usborne is a copywriter, author and speaker. You can access all his newsletter articles on writing for the web at his http://www.ExcessVoice.com site. You'll find more articles and resources on how to make money as a freelance writer at http://www.FreelanceWritingSuccess.com