MET:RSS Really Simple Syndication

From UBC Wiki

About RSS Feeds

Authored by Glenn Allen Section 65A Winter 2011

RSS (Really Simple Syndication) offers a web-based means to collect/distribute information by category or interest. In simple terms, instead of a user having to search for information by topic, information is brought (or fed) to the user. RSS feeds also allow users to categorize and organize information without having to download or store it anywhere. The information resides in the cloud.

RSS feeds are made available in web pages and are typically identified by a small RSS, XML or other similar icons. By selecting and subscribing to a feed, a user then receives updates when source web pages are updated or changed.

The most popular and common RSS feeds are from news organizations. For this reason, RSS feeds are sometimes also known as news feeds. RSS feeds, however, are not just limited to news. Feeds can exist in blogs, video/picture collections, and even course pages! A good place to start using feeds is the BBC website. Some browsers, like Firefox, have a BBC RSS feed set up by default. Simply click on the link in the toolbar area and you will get a drop down of the latest headlines. Check back later, and you will see the headlines change as new headlines gets added. You can quickly browse headlines without having to open any of the individual documents. This can be a real time-saver. Once one gets the feel for RSS feeds, users can review a lot of “new” information with very little effort.

Click on the image for a larger view

In addition to subscribing to existing feeds, users can also create their own custom feeds that look for and return results based on one’s preferences. In a way, RSS feeds are like bookmarks, except each RSS feed represents its own category and consists of additional related bookmarks. Instead of having to go out and look for changes or updates, one only has to click on the feed to see the latest results.

Using Feeds

RSS feeds are really just placeholders for groups of links. The “code” within the feeds contains information about the feed. These pages usually consist of XML or ATOM standards or protocols. The technical aspect of this is beyond the scope of this wiki entry, however, links to additional technical resources are listed below.

While some browsers allow users to drag and drop feeds to menu bars (as in the picture above), this process is not ideal for anyone who subscribes to multiple feeds. Applications known as aggregators or feed readers allow users to keep track of and view feeds in an organized manner. A number of these applications are free and open-source. Google Reader is a good starting point for understanding how RSS readers work. This tool also works seamlessly with other RSS friendly Google Apps, like Blogger, News, and Alerts.

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Some RSS History

Sample RSS Code. Please click on the the image to see a larger version

RSS has been around since 1999, and like many web technologies, has undergone a number of version evolutions (some argue that RSS is short for Rich Site Summary). The history and evoluton of RSS was significant as all browsers needed to be able to interpret, support and display feeds. As with HTML coding, certain standards and protocols had to be agreed upon. Fortunately, we are now at version 2.0, and like many other web applications today, the technical details are less important than they were in the early years. For those interested in what happens behind the scenes, an RSS feed is really just a placeholder for numerous links. The RSS code is usually written in XML (extensible mark-up language) or a variation known as ATOM.

While the coding for RSS feeds can get complicated, a typical user does not need to do any programming. Most aggregators or readers handle the code automatically

Using RSS Feeds to Enrich Learning

Please refer to the ETEC510 Design Wiki's separate entry on this subject Using RSS Feeds to Enrich Learning


BBC News Feeds

Google Reader

RSS Specifications

Understanding RSS Feeds

What is RSS?

Wikipdedia - RSS


Finkelstein, E. (2005). Syndicating web sites with RSS feeds, Hokebon, NJ: Wiley.

Richardson, W. (2010). Blogs, wikis, podcasts and other powerful tools for the classroom, Thousand Oaks, CA:Corwin.