RSS! What is it good for?

RSS Icon I’ve seen a few discussions in my favorite Windows Live Groups on this topic, so I thought I’d contribute a quick post on what RSS is, how it relates to Windows Live Spaces and other parts of Windows Live, and how to use it in Internet Explorer.

RSS stands for “rich site summary” or “really simple syndication.” In a nutshell, it’s a set of standards that facilitates the publication of frequently-updated content – blog posts, news articles traffic data, or really almost anything – to be packaged into a standardized “feed” of content, which usually includes full or summarized content, as well as information about who published it and when it was published.

What’s significant about RSS is the way it allows people to receive notifications about the stuff that’s important to them. People can subscribe to published feeds using any of several programs, called RSS readers (or sometimes news aggregators), and receive updates as they occur. RSS is also becoming increasingly popular to drive features within programs, in order to support on-demand news and more.

You can think of RSS subscriptions like your personal bookmarks or favorites, except that they notify you when there’s something new. Instead of a link that simply directs you to a web page that you have to manually comb for updates, an RSS subscription points to an organized list of feeds. It’s half-way between a push and pull scenario: the RSS reader asks the feed “what’s new?” and the feed says “here’s what we have.” Each time the RSS reader checks the feed (on a schedule that can typically be customized), it discovers newly posted items and presents them like unread e-mail messages or newsgroup posts.

How to read RSS

There are several popular readers available, including Bloglines, FeedDemon, Google Reader (slap “Google” in front of anything, and it’ll be hailed as awesome). There’s also a surprisingly good RSS reader built into Windows Live Mail, which interfaces with IE’s list of managed feeds (version 7 and later provides an integrated aggregator).

Readers allow feeds to be organized using a familiar folder structure (word to the wise: keep your feeds organized from the get go, ‘cause they’ll get wildly out of hand more quickly than you can imagine). If you’re transitioning to RSS from traditional favorites, then consider adopting a similar organizational structure for your feeds.

In order to “play nice” with RSS, the content needs to be effectively separated from formatting, because most RSS readers are designed to add their own formatting. Some readers can display images or other media, but most prefer to present content as plain text. So if you’re one of those spacers that can’t resist formatting your blog posts to the hilt, you’re officially on notice for making my RSS reader work way harder than it should have to.

Set up RSS within your Windows Live Space

If you use Windows Live Spaces to blog, then you can set up your space to publish updates via RSS. Atop any page of your space, click Options > General.

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On the General Options page, click Syndicate This Space, and click Save.

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That’s it. Your Space will start publishing updates, and your visitors can subscribe to your feed using either via the provided URL  (e.g., http://gregsedwards.spaces.live.com/feed.rss) or clicking the Subscribe to RSS Feed link on the Visitor Tools (provided you’ve turned on that module).

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RSS on Windows Live

Another important point of RSS integration within Windows Live is the “What’s New with Your Network” feed, which appears on your individual Home page. Sure, you can receive updates on your friends each time you visit the, or you can use RSS to have updates delivered to your favorite RSS reader. Simply click the Feed link at the bottom of the page.

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Windows Live will happily deliver updates of all types ad nauseam: blog posts, quotes, notes, comments, shared photos, files posted to SkyDrive, favorite books and movies, and more. They’re all in one convenient place, even if you decide that place is your RSS reader rather than your Home page (it should be noted that opting to use RSS will not affect updates on your Home page).

RSS on the Web

Once you start exploring RSS on the Web, you’ll be surprised how many sites provide feeds. Instead of hunting around all over the page for little orange icons to click, you can use the View Feeds on this Page button on IE’s command bar to quickly see what subscriptions are offered on the page.

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Some sites, such as Gizmodo, realize that while RSS provides a measure of convenience to their readers, it also represents a significant threat to their ad revenue, since it allows readers to effectively bypass their flashy, ad-covered sites and just get directly at the content they want. Therefore, these sites offer multiple feeds: including ad-free teasers, which direct you to the site to read more, as well as full posts, complete with ads.

I hope that helps clear up any basic questions that you have about RSS, and I encourage you to learn more about this exciting technology. We now return you to your regular programming (and don’t forget to subscribe to my space while you’re here).

– Greg

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10 thoughts on “RSS! What is it good for?

  1. You’ve been at the Wikipedia again haven’t you! Although it soon became known as really simple syndication, it’s proper name is Ramanathan’s Simple Syndication, after Ramanathan V. Guha, who invented it in 1999. He was working for Apple at the time, then moved to Netscape, and I think is now working for google. It was only ever known as ‘rich site summary’ for a brief period around 2001 when Microsoft tried to hijack it as their own, until stopped by court action. This is why rss has taken so long to surface in internet explorer, every other browser has read rss feeds since the year 2001!The problem with lives rss readers is that they are somewhat stuck in the stoneage. The best you can hope for is a list of links to the original pages and a brief description. Any rss reader worth it’s salt these days is capable of reading most audio, video and picture formats, and is capable of playing them back. I will be writing a full rss reader for my forum site next week, that should be live spaces compatible, (as long as they don’t block the ‘html sandbox’ gadget’), so I will let it ‘escape’ into the live community :-)If you like media center, and want to see what an rss feed can really do, check out Tversity ( http://www.tversity.com ). This works on any media streaming system, and, amongst other things, will allow you to stream audio and video feeds directly to your TV set! You can also set it up to stream music or video from your computer to your pda or mobile phone, all with rss feeds!

  2. Of course! Wikipedia is always good for a little inspiration. I grabbed the icon there, and you’ll notice that the RSS link points there. It’s true that RSS has had a bit of "brand identity" confusion, and few can agree about what the acronym really means. I think people are most familiar with "really simple syndication." I’ll really look forward to seeing your RSS reader, and thanks for pointing me to tversity. Nice to have you back in the Windows Live world!

  3. Greg I have already posted one of my how-to’s to the Clubhouse quite a while back about using Windows Live Mail to view all your content via the RSS feeds link in IE. I usually set it up in Windows Live Mail so that I can see the webpage in its entirety, (and users blogs in Windows Live Spaces! I honestly don’t leave my desktop if I can help it, so I love RSS feeds. Let the news and updates come to me! LOL

  4. I’ve used RSS for almost as long as I’ve been connected. I’ve read a bit about it and understood the meaning: ‘Really Simple Syndication’ but have never heard of the first term you used: ‘Rich Site Summary’.This is a really good blog, Greg and far more full of information than anywhere else that supposedly tells you what a Feed is. Well done on a good write-up. Fink I’ll go and get my Feed set up. As for yours, well thanks, Yup. I’d love to subscribe:-)

  5. Well, trust Dave to come up with yet another (what did Greg call it?) acronym! TG is quite right. I use Live Mail for all my RSS stuff too and, even with its updated version, all the feeds I’ve asked for still work correctly and even plonk themselves into their own relevant folders. I’ve never been called upon to make a folder for any of them. Gimme simplicity any day:-) Love it.

  6. To clarify what I said, it was Ramanathan himself who changed the name to really simple syndication, for the eminently sensible reason that no one could spell his name properly!But surely you must admit that, in this day and age, just plonking a list on a page isn’t exactly a staggering achievement! And while live RSS feeds work ok within live, if you take them into the outside world they don’t parse properly, ‘cos they ‘aint written right!

  7. @Dave: Exactly my point, Dave. Who needs a ‘staggering achievement’ when things can be done for you. Oh, but just a thought, whether it’s got anything to do with IE8 or not I haven’t sussed yet. I set up feeds for the Live blogs I’m interested in and have also set my blog space to feed out to whoever may want it but IE8 won’t display the page. "Bloomin’ noosance!" as we say around here so the ‘parsing’ thing is probably right, at least for the browser.

  8. My point is that that is ALL it does! If your rss feed is a podcast, why doesn’t it play it? If it’s a photo site stream, why can’t you see the pictures? If it’s a blog update, why can’y you see the blog?The IE8 RSS problem is known about,and is due to IE8’s quite staggering non-compatibility with the rest of the known internet :-)Anyway, I’m about to head south for a spot of house and dog sitting, so it’s time to pack the ‘puter. For the next two weeks I will be in the wild country four miles west of Diss!

  9. You have a good trip, Dave, and mind the roads. Terrible weather out there. Didn’t Hubby and I ‘cop it’ today when we went for a 30-mile round trip! The fog was dreadful.You call it a ‘puter, for me, it’s a pootah;) Poor ol’ Greg is sitting there thinking, what are these two on about?Sorry, Greg! As for my last about Feeds, I should remember that at least I can see Updates in Messenger or on my IE8 toolbar and read the Feeds in Live Mail, as opposed to Hotmail. Live Mail picks the page up, too, so no worries. I just like testing what things can or cannot do but, on the whole, feeds are really effective. The Microsoft ones work on IE8 so maybe Live needs a bit of a patch/fix/kickupthewotsit!

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