To be honest, I heard about RSS some long time ago but never paid so much attention to that topic. For me, it was like “a tool within a huge number of tools within the internet”. But what is RSS and how may it help you? Let’s find out together.
What is RSS?
RSS stands for really simple syndication. But what does that mean? Imagine the following: You’re interested in several topics, and you read and follow many blogs. How do you get the information that someone has written a new article somewhere?
Often you have to check those websites and blogs by hand. Many years ago this was my regular habit. Every 1-2 weeks I took some time just to open every blog I find interesting in a new tab and scan for new articles. If the blog has none, I closed that tab. Based on my experience: Having a Browser which supports tabs and opens all bookmarks at once when you open a Bookmark-Folder this helps a lot to save your time.
Wouldn’t it be much easier when you can just open an application which tells you “here you have new articles” or “nothing happened” within a few seconds? Wouldn’t it be nice, when you can download and read articles offline while you’re travelling? This can be done using RSS. Imagine RSS as a generic interface (a standardized one) to receive information about a blog. In this document, you get some information like the author, published date, link to the article itself or the whole content of the article. Most RSS-Feeds I’ve seen so far are including the whole content in it so your RSS-Reader is able to display the whole article. Some blogs are just writing a short introduction with a link to the article, so you access their website directly (which they can use to measure the number of readers, their browser and so on - TODO: Wertungsfrei betonen).
A minor drawback is to guess the RSS-URL if the author has no explicit link in their website.
Often it is something like
Some time ago I got additional information via Twitter. You (as the owner of the website) have some capabilities to
provide the RSS-Link in a standardized way: Using HTML Link-Tags.
1<html> 2 <head> 3 <title>Example page</title> 4 <!-- This link gives RSS-Readers a hint, where to find the feed --> 5 <link rel="alternate" type="application/rss+xml" href="/feed.xml" title="RSS Feed"> 6 </head> 7 <body> 8 <p>Your page content</p> 9 </body> 10</html>
Any RSS-Reader, which uses this technique, should be able to pick up the RSS-Feed based on the source code of the website and handle it accordingly.
What does the RSS format look like?
The RSS-Feed is just one XML-File with a list of articles in it. Let’s take a look at the (shortened and commented) document of my own blog:
1<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8" standalone="yes"?> 2<rss version="2.0" xmlns:atom="http://www.w3.org/2005/Atom"> 3 <channel> 4 <!-- General data --> 5 <title>Matthias Büge</title> 6 <link>https://mbuege.com/</link> 7 <description>Recent content on Matthias Büge</description> 8 <generator>Hugo -- gohugo.io</generator> 9 <language>de-de</language> 10 <lastBuildDate>Fri, 10 Feb 2023 00:00:00 +0000</lastBuildDate> 11 <atom:link href="https://mbuege.com/index.xml" rel="self" type="application/rss+xml"/> 12 13 <!-- Article 1 --> 14 <item> 15 <title>In english please</title> 16 <link>https://mbuege.com/2023/02/10/in-english-please/</link> 17 <pubDate>Fri, 10 Feb 2023 00:00:00 +0000</pubDate> 18 <guid>https://mbuege.com/2023/02/10/in-english-please/</guid> 19 <description>Content of article. Ommitted for clarity</description> 20 </item> 21 22 <!-- Article 2 --> 23 <item> 24 <title>Kurz vorgestellt: Automapper</title> 25 <link>https://mbuege.com/2022/12/12/kurz-vorgestellt-automapper/</link> 26 <pubDate>Mon, 12 Dec 2022 00:00:00 +0000</pubDate> 27 <guid>https://mbuege.com/2022/12/12/kurz-vorgestellt-automapper/</guid> 28 <description>Content of article. Ommitted for clarity</description> 29 </item> 30 </channel> 31</rss>
As a side note beforehand: The structure is mostly copy-pasted by the official Hugo-Template. I just did minor changes ( and I have some changes on my todo-list).
As you can see, we have some meta-data about the website itself like the title, creation date and generator of this file.
item-Tags contain the articles or the link to the article itself. I provide the title, link,
publish date and some additional information. Usually I add the whole content within the
description-Tag. This has
advantages for the readers, so that you can read the whole article within your RSS-Reader without switching to my
website or your application.
There are some writers out there which are only writing the first paragraph or a summary into that tag with a link to
the article on their homepage. The benefit they have is: They can measure the traffic and number of visitors for their
articles. I guess both ways are fine and comprehensible.
Personally, I dislike articles in my RSS-Reader which are linked to their own website (including application switching
and so on), so it’s important for me to give you a good user experience.
Why is RSS (not) so widely used?
Based on my personal environment, the perception about RSS is very distinct. I know some people who asked me like “RSS is still a thing?”. Some other people didn’t hear of that technology yet and a third group is complaining that many websites don’t offer an easy-to-use RSS feed.
I see myself in the third group. Especially when I discover new blogs with interesting articles, I’m looking for the link to the RSS feed. Good blogs have them directly included within their website. Others are using “common” links (as described above), so I am able to guess the URL or they include the information within the source code. Unfortunately, there are some people out there that prevent access to their blog by using RSS. I don’t know if it is by accident or if they want to have regular traffic onto their website. Some websites are offering regular updates via E-Mail. From marketing aspects, you have direct contact with your readers which is awesome to get more insights (e.g. mails opened, articles read).
I have an interesting side-note for the usage of RSS: We talked about Jenkins some time ago (here for example: Jenkins unter Linux installieren und einrichten (GER)). Jenkins offers different Atom-Feeds like “all builds” or “for failures”. I think this is a creative idea to support some kind of notification by using standards.
The most important things you should know about RSS are:
- It is XML based
- It is standardized
- It is good for automatic updates of frequently changed content (like Blogs)
- It offers you some flexibility how to publish your content
As you’ve seen, RSS offers an easy way to notify your readers about new articles. Your readers are gaining a simple way to aggregate their sources within their preferred newsreader.
Photo credits: Pixabay.com