RSS is the “glue” that holds Web 2.0 together.
RSS is today’s standard for syndicating dynamic content on the web. An abbreviation of “Really Simple Syndication” (or, in some circles, “Rich Site Summary”), RSS is a means of pulling a web site’s dynamic content into an automatically-updated “feed,” which can be displayed on another web page, mobile device, or as an e-mail message. Comprised of data organized within XML tags, RSS feeds are often generated by many Web 2.0 applications — like blogs, wikis, and popular services like Twitter — and can be customized to include or exclude certain types of information. One simple benefit that RSS offers, from a reader’s perspective, is the ability to subscribe to websites and view updates without browsing. From a publisher’s perspective, RSS offers the convenience of sending updates directly to subscribers automatically. In broader terms, RSS creates interconnections across the web, provides quicker and easier access to information, and creates a means of filtering and re-arranging content according to subscriber preferences.
Feeds in other Formats
Web browsers can display RSS feeds, but most users employ a special reader to view subscribed feeds. An RSS reader can aggregate multiple feeds; check feeds regularly for updates; keep track of which items have been read; and filter, sort, and group feed items. You can find thousands of feed reading applications on the Web; some of them are browser-based, and others are programs you can run on your desktop. Online, browser-based services give you the advantage of being able to access feed updates from anywhere. Some popular (and free) online feed readers are listed below.
- Google Reader can manage multiple subscriptions, and integrates well with Gmail, iGoogle, and Feedburner.
- Bloglines features an easy-to-use interface, with drag-and-drop management of feeds.
- Newsgator offers a browser-based feed reader in addition to a line of desktop applications.
- My Yahoo! is similar to Google Reader in that it integrates well with Yahoo!’s other offerings (mail, groups, etc.)
- Netvibes allows users to customize a web homepage or “portal” with RSS feeds and other widgets.
Creating RSS feeds from static Web sites
Not every website generates an RSS feed. You can usually tell if a website generates RSS or not by looking at the navigation bar in your web browser. If the icon appears next to the URL, the site is generating an RSS feed that can be subscribed to. Fortunately, there are tools out there that can add syndication and subscription capabilities to sites that do not generate RSS.
- Feedity is a service can monitor a static Web page and syndicate any changes through RSS.
- Dapper’s Dapp Factory can create an RSS feed by monitoring a static Web site, but also provides the ability to subscribe to specific portions of a page.
RSS and Digital Commons
If you have a blog through Digital Commons, you are already syndicating your posts! Each blog generates an RSS feed that readers can subscribe to, including the blog that you’re reading right now. Check your web browser’s address bar, and you’ll likely see the icon, indicating an option to subscribe. The permissions settings you have for your blog also affect the feed; that is, if your blog is only accessible to the students in a particular course, the feed is restricted in the same way.
Likewise, if you have a wiki through Digital Commons, you are syndicating that content as well. With a wiki, you also have different subscription options: you can subscribe to a specific page (where new entries are generated when the page is changed), subscribe to the discussion running behind a page, and even subscribe to all site activity. As with blogs, the permission settings carry over to feeds: protected wikis generate protected feeds, and only those with privileges to access the wiki will have the capability to subscribe.
Paving the Way for Content Mashups
A “mashup” combines content or functionality from multiple sources to create something new and innovative. Combining and manipulating multiple RSS feeds is an easy way to create intriguing, rich mashups on the web. There are a several resources out there to help you create RSS mashups: to delve into the tools, methods, and best practices, continue on to our next post on Mashups and Yahoo! Pipes.