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What is RSS and How Do I Use It?

By Yaro Starak
64 Comments

This one is for the newbies that have no idea what RSS, XML and syndication are…whoa, confusing already isn’t it!

Start with this video by my friend, Gideon Shalwick taken from our website, BecomeABlogger.com.

Definitions

It wasn’t much longer then six months ago that I had no idea what these terms were. I understood what XML was because I had read a book about it but I had no idea how it all worked with syndication of content. Just as I learnt how trackbacks work by actually using them I did the same with syndication. I also took the time to read the definitions of the terms and as usual the Wikipedia entries on XML, RSS, Web Syndication and Web Feed are a good place to start.

The Basics

In a nutshell you use RSS (Really Simple Syndication) to syndicate or subscribe to the feed of a website, blog or almost any media content online (not just articles, it can be music, video or almost any digital media). By syndicating you subscribe to the feed of the site which means you do not have to go visit the website to read the latest content. Instead you use feed reading software or a website to read the latest articles. Instead of going to each of your favourite sites individually you can collect all the feeds of the sites (provided they make them available) in one place. The purpose of syndication is to therefore make it more efficient for you to consume your favourite content.

If you are not into the technical side of the Internet you don’t need to know much about XML. It’s basically the formatting language that software and websites use to distribute the content to your feed reader. If you know nothing about HTML then you probably don’t really need to know much about XML either. Just understand that behind syndication is the language XML.

The best way to learn is by practice and example so let me tell you exactly how I use RSS.

Feed Reading Software

At the moment I use RSSOwl which is software you install on to your computer. Like all software there is a learning curve to using RSSOwl however once you have subscribed to your first feed it becomes very easy. If you get really stuck try the help menu or check the website out for guidelines.

There are other feed reading software programs out there and a Google search for RSS reader will bring up many options. I tried three different programs and stuck with RSSOwl because it was free, light weight and functional for what I wanted. There are prettier and more functional feed readers out there and I’ll leave it up to you to choose your favourite.

Web Based Feed Reading

With a standalone software feed reader like RSSOwl you have to be on the computer you installed the software to in order to have access to your feeds. Because of this limitation many people choose to use a web based feed reader and the most popular is Bloglines. Bloglines works much like feed reading software except because it is entirely based on the Internet you can access your syndicated feeds online from any computer connected to the web. You can also share your feeds with other people or search other people’s feed lists to see what is popular.

Subscribing to a Blog

To continue with my example…of course I subscribe to my own feed, the RSS of this blog. At the top right corner you will see an orange RSS link button. To subscribe to my feed all you do is copy and paste that link into feed reading software or a web based reader like bloglines. You may also have to name the feed and strangely enough this feed is called “Entrepreneur’s Journey”. The RSS feed link for this site looks like this – http://feeds.feedburner.com/EntrepreneursJourney – and if you click it you will get the XML output of this blog. That’s the stuff I told you about that you don’t really need to understand, but take a look by clicking the link if you are interested. Note that I use a special third party service called FeedBurner that adds extra features to my feed output and most importantly it provides me with statistics on how many people subscribe to my blog.

All blogs will have a link which you can subscribe to. It might be called Atom, or RSS, or simply Syndicate, but they all do the same thing. The reason there are so many names is because there are different standards to create web syndication services (much like the old BETA vs VHS video format competition). At the moment it appears that RSS is certainly winning the standards war so you will mostly see the orange RSS links everywhere.

Syndication is for More than Just Blogs

Blogs certainly started the syndication craze but it is well and truly breaking out now. I wouldn’t call it mainstream just yet since not many people know how to use it but most of the big web companies are making subscription feeds available for almost any content. Chances are if you are reading an article from a big site you can subscribe to a feed that distributes those articles. Just look for that RSS symbol.

Besides article distribution a new craze has launched called Podcasting. I’m not going to go into Podcasting in this article since it is a subject that deserves its own article. For the purposes of understanding how Podcasting is related to syndication all you need to know is that a Podcast is an audio show, like radio but usually focused on voice because music is copyrighted. Unless you have the rights to the music you may get into trouble if you broadcast it in a podcast. People use syndication to subscribe to a Podcast audio show which they can listen to on their computer or download to an mp3 player.

Update: If you want to learn about podcasts please read – What is a Podcast and How Can I Use One?

The Future

RSS is designed to make your Internet life easier. At the moment it’s worthwhile to become familiar with this technology simply because you are going to be seeing a lot more of it. If you can keep abreast of the technology wave you will have less frustration when using the Internet.

About Yaro Starak

Yaro Starak is the author of the Blog Profits Blueprint, a report you can download instantly to learn how to make $10,000 a month, from only blogging 2 hours per day. You can find Yaro on Facebook, Twitter and .

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64 Comments

  • Hi Yaro, good intro to syndication.

    You should probably correct this typo, it’s a little confusing:

    “of course I subscribe to my own fee, the RSS of this blog”

    S.

  • Thanks Simon, all fixed!

  • Interesting article – I’m about to read a mag article about RSS and news feeds… the point I’d like to make though is that it might not be good from a business point of view – sure, people are interested in your site, but they aren’t seeing your ads – would the RSS feeds count toward the site’s visitor statistics – how would advertisers feel about the percentage not actually looking at their ads, but solely at the site’s content? Ben.

  • Very good post, Yaro … a great introduction to rss – very concise. I’m definately going to link to this next time I write-up about rss.

    Have you given Newsgator Online a try for a web-based reader? I prefer it over Bloglines.

  • Another Post About RSS

    Okay, I keep harping about this … but I’m a huge fan of RSS.
    Yaro from Entrepreneur’s Journey has led me to another rss reader out there – RSSOwl, which on first impressions (ie: I downloaded it – 4.7Mb – and tried a dozen or so fee…

  • [...] Yaro also goes into RSS a little with What is RSS and How Do I Use It?, which is quite an impressive read for those relatively new to the possibilities of RSS. [...]

  • [...] Before you continue if you have no idea what RSS is I strongly suggest you read this article first – What is RSS and How Do I Use It?. RSS forms the distribution method for Podcasts and you should have a basic understanding of RSS before you start to play with Podcasts. [...]

  • QuickBits: August 19, 2005

    A new feature here at HomeOfficeVoice, the Weekly QuickBits post will appear every Friday with links to items that may be of interest to small business owners.
    I cull these from literally thousands of items I get delivered to my RSS newsreader throug…

  • [...] Another excellent feature of the Google blog search is the ability to subscribe to the feeds of any search phrase you use. By doing this you can keep up to date using RSS syndication to follow the top 10 or top 100 results on the latest news around the blogosphere for any particular topic. [ | Add Your Comment ] [...]

  • Jason McNeill

    I am a Web designer, and have been looking for an easy way to embed RSS information within a Web page. So far, I’ve seen that you have to have scripting abilities (such as ASP, PHP, Perl or ColdFusion) to do this. By I’ve finally found an answer that everyone can use:
    http://www.RSS-To-Javascript.com

    RSS-To-Javascript.com is a Web site that lets you enter the address to any RSS feed in a form. Specify some customizations, submit the form, and BOOM! You’ve got some javascript code that you need only paste into any HTML page, and instantly you have the ability to embed RSS information within a Web page.

    This is a godsend.

  • Nikhil

    Hi …
    This is THE BEST ARTICLE I READ ON RSS.
    I am beginner to RSS.
    I am using web-based reader reader.google.com

    Bfore this site , ihit lots of sites and TRIED to study what is RSS . But all my efforts were useless.

    The Example u gave is simply best.

    Regards,
    Nikhil Bhasvar.
    Accenture

  • Yaro. A very intelligent posting as you don’t assume that everyone has a Masters degree in I.T.

  • I’d truly like a telephonic conference discussion about this RSS feed stuff with someone who knows much about it, my webmaster, and myself. I have the conference call capability and the webmaster, but not the RSS subject expert. Would anyone care to volunteer? If so, please contact me at LustfulAlice@ aol.com. We’re a new site and currently under construction. Thanks. Alice

  • [...] I still recommend people learn how to subscribe with RSS but I understand some prefer email so I need to have a robust solution for them as well. If you haven’t yet subscribed either by RSS or through email I suggest you go to the right sidebar now and do so, I’ve got some pretty good content coming up in the weeks ahead. [...]

  • I agree with the comment above, this post assumes the reader doesn’t have a masters degree in IT

    I want to use this article on my blog… Yaro?
    you got an affiliate program for me to use when I link to you?

    The blog I want to use it on is:
    http://software4yourmind.com

    Thanks for the great info… are you a fellow Warrior?
    Your blog is one I MUST add to my reader…

  • Hi David – You are welcome to use the article on your blog as long as you link back to my site as reference for the author of the article.

    I don’t have an affiliate program for this blog because I don’t actually sell anything of my own..yet. Blog Traffic School will have an affiliate program but it hasn’t launched yet.

    And yep, I am a warrior if you mean the forums?

  • [...] Most of the readers of this blog are fairly tech savvy, so will probably already know what RSS is. It stands for Really Simple Syndication. It is a way for people to subscribe to the exact content they want from your (and other) sites by pulling it from an XML file on your site into a reader (such as Bloglines). That way they don’t have to visit every individual site but just get a list of updated stories from the websites they want all in one convenient location. Yaro Starak has a nice introduction to RSS if you are in the dark. [...]

  • A really good tool this http://www.RSS-To-Javascript.com, but I don’t see why you have to put that java on your website, when the text is not readably by the search engines!

  • [...] RSS is a core and essential part of any blog. For a primer on what RSS is and how it is used, you can begin with this article, here we will stick to how to set it up on your site. [...]

  • [...] Once you have your account you need to add sites. If you find a site you like (ie littlemummy.com!) you can add the feed by clicking the orange button (scan the front page of a site for this, mine is on the left hand side) or a button that corresponds to your particular feed reader. There are other ways to add a feed, however, this gets a little more technical, if you want to read more on RSS this is a good place to start. [...]

  • [...] RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary. It is generated in XML, which is a generic specification for data formats. There are 3 different specifications of RSS feeds, namely RSS1.0, RSS2.0 and Atom. All 3 differ slightly in their structure, but they all serve the exact same purpose of syndicating content. More details can be found over at the RSS wikipedia entry or Harvard university’s take on RSS. Yaro Starak, (more on him at a later stage), has also written a very good post on RSS, which you might also like to read for more substance. [...]

  • [...] Don’t know what RSS is, here is a simple explanation over at my own blog. A more in depth and probably accurate explanation here and RSS the Oprah way here. [...]

  • [...] As you may noticed I’ve made a few layout changes to the blog. This is to make it easier to navigate and read. Mainly it is to entice new readers. The original reason for this blog was afterall to help me promote some of my sites, so I need readers to do this! The changes should also make it easier for me to market. I wont go into detail about the various marketing methods I will use just yet but I will quikly mention RSS. On the right you will see lots of buttons to add the RSS feed to a web based reader. Subscribing to a feed automatically downloads the latest blog to your reader or web based reader, meaning you do not need to visit this site to read it. Very useful if you regularly read several blogs. Yaro Starak has written a great article – What is RSS and How Do I Use It? on his blog about this. If Yaro reads this I have to say thank you, have taken some inspiration and ideas from your blog already! I have also started doing some marketing for World Dating Partners, a site I have used very succesfully to build some of my own dating sites. If you are interested its worth a look. To give you an idea setting up a basic site takes a few minutes and with simple marketing can start earning quickly. [...]

  • Pua

    OK guys you convinced me…RSS feed it is! My Hawaii blog is with the old blogger. I have RSS and Atom feed from blogger. Also have the Feed for my blog from Feedburner.

    Read somewhere that feedburner feed is the best solution. Correct? Thanks, Pua Hawaii

  • [...] all this talk about feeds isn’t filling you up, check out one of my favorite blogs, Entrepreneurs-Journey. Yaro explains it well, and I still have much to [...]

  • Joe

    Hi Yaro,

    I’m setting up an RSS feed right now and I think I’ll go with FeedBurner. Just wondering if you had any experience with their TotalStats Pro package and whether you think it would be worth the extra $5 per month?

    Cheers,
    Joe

  • Hey Joe – No, sorry no experience with the feedburner paid product.

    If you try it out, come back and give us a mini-review :)

  • Until I read your post I had absolutely no idea what RSS was. After reading your post I understand it a little better. Thanks for the info.

  • [...] Yaro Starak on What is RSS and How Do I use it?  [...]

  • Yaro – I’m one of your BMM students…I thought you mentioned how to get the rss info added to the end of a post, but now after searching fo rth einfo I’m, thinking I was on drugs. I want to add something like you have to my posts…take pity on me and remind me – is it a plug-in?
    thanks, Sue Olson

  • Hi Sue,

    No, in my case it’s not a plug-in, it’s some HTML that was added to my blog’s theme design so it appears at the end of every post.

    There is welcome message plug-in you can get that will add a customizable welcome message that you can use to encourage RSS subscription, but I recommend just hard coding a single text line asking people to subscribe to your feed.

    I hope that helps!

    Yaro

  • [...] What is RSS and How Do I Use It? by Yaro Starak from [...]

  • Blair

    Thanks for the clean post on RSS, but I can’t find a contrast of RSS vs. Email Subscription, and would like your thoughts on the difference.

    I e-subscribe to useful blogs (glad I found yours now) so that each update can automatically sort into the topic folder in my OE program; I can only read those that interest me right then but can keep them clearly ID’d in the folders; I can forward only that one email if I want to share it; I don’t have to see it every day — it delivers to me only upon updates, etc. If RSS can do all this, or if there are other benefits that out-weigh these uses, can you let us know with your thoughts on using RSS over email subscriptions?

    Many thanks –

  • I just read about the RRS feed.I might be still a little confuse, but I will folow your sugestion about the RRSOwl.
    I realy apreciate your posts… they have helped a lot!!!
    Thanks!

    PS. I will let you know whenever I instal and start using RRSOwl.

  • Hi Yaro… Its me again!!! LOL

    OK… I download the RSSOwl, but for some reaso, I didn’t understaned it very well. So Accepint a sugestion of one of your readers ( What is RSS ? RSS Explained in Plain English ) I dowloaded the GoogleReader ( I thaught that was easier to understand it). But anyway…
    I downloaded the FeedBurned also. But what I have to do to create that RSSfeed “ICON” on yhe top of my blog http://www.paulopics.com/blog ?
    Thanks for your and your readers help!
    Paulo

  • Yaro,
    Thanks for a very interesting article. Since I am new to RSS, this is a good start to my learning and understanding it a little better.

  • [...] (To learn more about readers, check out Yaro Starak’s post about rss feeds.) [...]

  • [...] a more detailed coverage, i strongly suggest you to check my mentor Yaro Storak’s article What is RSS and How Do I Use It? More info can also be found at [...]

  • ksr

    hi YARO,
    i have gone through many of ur articles , they have been nice n informative,
    n regarding rss feed , i guess my quest to know about rss ends here with ur writings, thnk u, keep up da job , all da best

  • [...] is by far one of the better descriptions I have found About what is RSS from Yaro Starak of entrepreneurs journey. I highly recommend if you haven’t already that you [...]

  • [...] Journey The strongest post with 161 backlinks is What is RSS and How Do I Use It? This is a post explaining about [...]

  • [...] other artists, promote their music and keep in touch with the community. It’s a great blog to pop into your RSS feeder so you can keep an eye on what’s up. You might even get a job with a Pink Floyd Tribute [...]

  • Lori

    Hi Yaro,

    I just started to research what RSS is. You untangled the mystery for me in a simplified way – thanks! I’ll check out the other articles too and glad you made reference to them (i.e podcasting, blogging)
    :-)
    Lori

  • A very good explanation. People ask me now and again how RSS works, and I’ve never had a clear explanation. I’ll be passing this post along to those who ask in the future – you’ve done a much better job of expalining RSS than I would be able to.

    Thanks!

    Lee

  • Hello Yaro,
    I am a big fan of your helpful blog and found your video about RSS.
    The information are for every newbie helpful so I decided to link from my own blog about Internet Marketing to this video.
    RSS is really the most important way to deliver content to people.
    You do a great job.

    To your success
    Maik Jaeckle

  • I spent over 3 hours last night trying to learn how to install my own RSS subscription thing, since I don’t use wordpress or any blog software. I know how to build an XML file, but was really looking for something that could update my posts automatically so that I wouldn’t have to go in and update my XML file manually every single time I create a new article…. unfortunately I have been unsuccessful in finding something like this (that’s free or a code that can be written myself). So anyways, I have been trying to do this for a long time, and after the 3 hours last night I was really questioning if RSS subscriptions are even all that great for blogs. So I came here and did a search for RSS Feed and found this, which helped explain a little more of how it is important, so I guess I will keep working at it :-)

  • Hi Yaro,

    Interesting post.

    I am fairly new to all this but I also wrote a post on my blog last week about RSS and Feedburner.

    I have used Google Reader for some time so I was aware of RSS.
    What really surprises me is the number of well known sites that do not have RSS activated.

    This is one of the best ways to save time out there. Your last paragraph sums it up nicely.

    Thanks for all the great information and advice, Yaro.

    Dave

  • Sometimes, RSS feeds can provide fresh updated content for your website. If your site has fresh content then it has an SEO advantage over another site that doesn’t. My sites don’t use RSS feeds (except for Adsense on one site). However, I might use them in the future for new updated content.

  • Hi Yaro,

    RSS is often something that confuses me so thatnks for clearing a few things up.

    Is there anyway with RSS to create like a link wheel so that you can gain lots of backlinks?

    Simon

  • It is great info about RSS. The video is more understandable than the texts.

  • May I suggest an updated article that combines things like use of RSS, Feedburner, Twitter and Facebook (and a couple others) into one cohesive blog marketing system easy for beginners to set up and get started with their new blogs?

    I say this because those starting out may not know how to integrate using some tools they may be familiar with separately…I would write this but don’t have time right now.

  • This may be slightly off-topic but has anyone noticed that you can now subscribe to someone’s link stream on Facebook via RSS? I’m not sure why but that pretty much blew my mind.

    RSS is a great time-saving tool for bloggers and blog community members – but once everyday internet users really start to pick up on RSS it is going to speed up the need for fresh and relevant content even more – going to be wild!

    Best,
    Marie P

    wwww.affinityclick.com
    @affinityclick

  • I’m a big fan of RSS, and use a combination of Google Reader and the brilliant iPhone Reeder app to check in on my favourite blogs.

    However, I’ve found when setting up my newest blog that I get more traffic via twitter than via RSS feeds, which is interesting (I track RSS using feedburner). I think too many people still don’t understand RSS, it remains one of the most brilliant but underutilised and unknown technologies of the web. None of my family or friends use RSS or really know what it is, despite me explaining it a few times.

    In addition, I find that my feeds don’t look as neat as my online articles unless I do a lot of extra html coding in WordPress. My main articles obviously autoformat and use a variety of styles. The RSS feed, taken from a different field, takes me a lot more work to get looking right, just in case someone does not want to go to the main page (I strongly prefer reading RSS blogs where all the text is in the feed, particularly as I read a lot offline when on the metro etc!).

  • Hi Yaro,

    It is an excellant post about RSS. You covered the topic as a brief. Usefullful tips for beginners like me.

    Thx

  • Cool article Yaro. Do you submit your RSS feed to the various aggregators like Feedage and so on? A few months ago found a plugin called RSS bomber that generates a unique feed for every single post on your blog. I found it very usefull for syndicating your content around the web, because after submitting your blogs main RSS feed you can’t submit it again. That’s where RSS bomber comes in very handy by giving you multiple feeds.

    Cheers, Joel.

  • [...] Para mayor información visite este sitio web. [...]

  • Hey Yaro, I’ve been thinking of using feedburner on my site because I heard that it’s just better, and feedburner will display the full content feed, where the standard WP feed sometimes won’t. Thanks for the tips!

    Andrew

  • what a nice post.

    Thanks
    Misbah Mumtaz

  • Yaro, thanks to your article, I just added an RSS link to my blog. Now I can’t wait to learn more from you.
    Your communication skills are superior. I’d love to find your articles on how to increase traffic on my blog. Please help.
    Thanks a million.

    • You are welcome Monia. I’m so pleased my old article is still proving useful!

      Just hit that “Start Here” link in my navbar at the top of this blog for more articles than you could possibly read!

      Yaro

  • Akanksha Sagar

    Hi Yaro,

    As i am a beginner in RSS , i found your post really worth reading. Every point had a wonderful explanation with examples. A great post indeed!!!!

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