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