All about RSS

This is a short post to accompany my appearance on The Dan Logan Show on Focal Radio this evening. Hello, Dan Logan Show listeners! If you’re wondering who on earth I am, take a look at my About page! 🙂

RSS – the basics

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, and basically it’s a way of publishing information online. Once upon a time, you would have to open a bunch of web pages to keep up with the news and see what had been updated. These days, you can subscribe to the feeds that those pages provide, and the updates will automagically appear in your feed reader.

RSS and another similar technology called Atom are often grouped together and called “feeds”. If you’re into the visuals, then you’ll enjoy a short 3 minute video called RSS in Plain English which shows what this is all about. If you want the technical description, then take a look at Wikipedia which goes into way more detail!

The RSS or feed icon is usually a little orange square with 3 radar-like stripes, but you’ll also find it shown as a blue or orange box which says ‘XML’ or ‘RSS’ in it. Here’s an example of the standard icon shown at the bottom of my Flickr page:

FlickrRSS.png

[confusingly – on Dan’s blog, there’s no icon, but right at the bottom of the page is a link that says Subscribe to: Posts (Atom) – that’s basically the same thing, just without a nice orange icon]

What’s a feed reader?

A feed reader is a program or application you can use to subscribe to and read different feeds. They usually look a bit like an email program like Outlook or Thunderbird, with feeds on the left and items on the right. There’s an online feed reader called Google Reader which is easy to get started with, or you could use any one of a large range of feed readers for Windows, Mac or Linux.

Which sites use RSS?

Lots and lots of sites use feeds now – it is becoming a really common way of providing updating information. Flickr, Twitter, BBC News, and others all provide feeds. Facebook is a little more tricky because their feeds are quite well hidden, but one thing you can do with Facebook is point it at a feed you publish, and it can then import the information as Notes – there’s an article that talks about how to set that up. There are literally thousands of sites that provide feeds – one “directory” of them is Syndica8.

If you’re looking for events in your area then you could take a look at Upcoming which provides feeds based on your searches. For gigs there’s also the-mag (which seems to mostly list gigs in the south, but you could always publish your own on there).

What else can I do with feeds?

The first thing to realise is that you don’t need to be really into technology to use feeds. If you write a blog, publish photos on Flickr, or publish a podcast, then feeds are already being created for you, and you don’t have to do anything at all!

However, if you’re into coding, you can mash them up. You could use something like Yahoo Pipes to visually wire them together and combine the output. Things like this cool interactive map of BBC News stories are mashups of RSS feeds with Google Maps, for instance. It’s a bit techie but also quite straightforward when you learn how. You can see a whole load of different mashups that other people have built at ProgrammableWeb.

Audio clips

Andy talks to Dan and Dayve about RSS (download)

Dan and Dayve talk Geocaching (download)

Thanks to Dan and Dayve for inviting me onto the show – it was a blast! They are doing some great stuff around social networks, geocaching, Twitter, blogging etc – it’s a fun programme. Looking forward to following them in their new Sunday slot.

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