Sunday, April 6, 2008

RSS feeds --what are they and how do they work?

RSS stands for Real Simple Syndication, a Web tool that helps us consume information in efficient and relevant ways. Will Richardson calls them 'The New Killer App for Educators', and he has devoted a whole chapter to this topic in his book, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms.
In simple terms, Weblogs (and an ever-growing number of other sites) generate a behind-the-scenes code in a language similar to HTML called XML. This code, usually referred to as a feed (as in news feed), makes it possible for readers to subscribe to the content that is created on a particular Weblog so they no longer have to visit the blog itself to get it....the content comes to you.

Remembering which websites I want to check in with regularly by going to the different sites takes time and a good memory. Even if I remember to bookmark useful sites, and arrange them by topic, I still get overwhelmed by the numbers and I run out of time. I'm never sure if I've read the most current information or just the top of my list.

The RSS feeds allow me to use a feed collector, a type of software called an aggregator.
Here's some more information from Wikipedia:


The Firefox and Internet Explorer 7 Feed icon.

Screenshot of an RSS feed as seen in Mozilla Thunderbird
File extension .rss, .xml
MIME type application/rss+xml (Registration Being Prepared)[1]
Extended from XML

RSS is a family of Web feed formats used to publish frequently updated content such as blog entries, news headlines, and podcasts.[2] An RSS document (which is called a "feed" or "web feed" [3] or "channel") contains either a summary of content from an associated web site or the full text. RSS makes it possible for people to keep up with web sites in an automated manner that can be piped into special programs or filtered displays.[3]

RSS content can be read using software called an "RSS reader", "feed reader" or an "aggregator". The user subscribes to a feed by entering the feed's link into the reader or by clicking an RSS icon in a browser that initiates the subscription process. The reader checks the user's subscribed feeds regularly for new content, downloading any updates that it finds.

The initials "RSS" are used to refer to the following formats:

  • Really Simple Syndication (RSS 2.0)
  • RDF Site Summary (RSS 1.0 and RSS 0.90)
  • Rich Site Summary (RSS 0.91).

RSS formats are specified using XML, a generic specification for the creation of data formats. Although RSS formats have evolved since March 1999,[4] the RSS icon ("") first gained widespread use in 2005/2006.

Of particular interest to me is learning about the icon , and learning to watch for it when I see a blog I would like to receive regular information from. Noting that the icon has only recently gained wide usage in 2005/2006 reminds my just how new this tool is, and that helps me be more accepting of my fumbles using it.

I found it easy to sign up for a feed reader from google, and at first I received a good flow of information (Okay, it was overwhelming but I was pleased that the tool seemed to be fulfilling its function). Then about the middle of March the information stopped flowing. I've spent quite a bit of time subscribing and re-subscribing, but no luck. When I can find the time, I will consult my local experts. I'm having that feeling regularly with the technology tools I've explored in this course. I'll need to go back and play with everything to feel more comfortable using Web 2.0 tools.

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