What is RSS and why do I want it on my websites?

Alexis Wilke's picture

Quite often, when I talk to people, they have no clue of what RSS is, how it works and what good it can do for them. Put simply:

RSS is a technology used by website owners to stay in touch with their audience

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. This Internet technology creates syndicated content from your posts that many in your audience can follow using tools such as Outlook, Thunderbird, Chrome, FireFox or Internet Explorer.

Try clicking on this icon: (Feed Icon)

So? How does it work?

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication1. This Internet technology creates syndicated content from your posts that many in your audience can follow using tools such as Outlook, Thunderbird, Chrome, FireFox or Internet Explorer2. There are also online applications that let your read RSS content in one place. Your Snap! Website is one of them! More on that in another post...

As a side note, you may have heard of RDF and XML Syndication. It is the same thing. RDF is a different format for the same purpose. XML is the basic format used by RSS and RDF to transmit the data between computers.

Graphical description of the functionality of an RSS feed.So? How does it work? The principal is simple, let me show you in three steps:

  1. Go to your Snap! Website and write a new post—just like me right now, as I'm writing this post about RSS feeds—and publish it.
  2. Your Snap! Website takes over and adds your post information to the RSS feed. Now it is ready for people to grab.
  3. People and robots come to your Snap! Website RSS feed and read its title and teaser without having to come to your website directly.

Many more people will follow your blog that way. In other words, with your RSS feed you will be able to have a bigger audience than without it. You can also duplicate your RSS feed in other systems such as the FeedBurner robot where people are more likely to find it3.

What those robots do is called Aggregation and will be the subject of another post as it is a full topic by itself.

Now, you're going to ask me, but where's my RSS feed?

On Snap! Websites, RSS feeds appear at the bottom of your pages as an RSS feed icon: RSS feed icon..

By default, the Syndicate block is often hidden since you pages already show your RSS link to your audience. By editing your Snap! Website blocks, you can present the Syndication block somewhere else on your site. Often in the left or the right sidebar.

Users of web browsers that understand the RSS feed meta tag will see the RSS Subscribe icon lit on all their browsers. Clicking on that button subscribes them to your website automatically.

I'm telling you, this is definitively the way to go for all bloggers and businesses.

Then you ask: Can I limit the content of my RSS feed to just a category or a blog?

Yes.

Snap! Websites offers an unlimited number of feeds based on several different parameters such as the author of the blog, the category in which you write a post, the date, whether it is part of your blog, your regular pages, your products... For instance, my blog here can be read via this RSS feed4:

http://snapwebsites.com/blog/alexis-wilke/feed

For those only interested in posts about Internet Marketing5, use this RSS feed:

http://snapwebsites.com/category/marketing/feed

And this doesn't stop there! Each page has a Publishing option box where you can choose, on a page by page basis, whether that page should be included in your RSS feed or not.

By the way, Snap! Websites does not offer the option of turning off your RSS feeds... It is that important!

  • 1. For those who wonder where I get that from, check out the RSS Advisory Board which maintains the RSS specifications. If you are a true geek, you'll probably also enjoy reading said specification...
  • 2. If I'm correct, full RSS support started with Internet Explorer 8.
  • 3. Using FeedBurner has the nice side effect of adding your RSS statistics to Google Analytics.
  • 4. Wondering what that is on your own site? Try going to Administer » Site building » URL aliases and look for aliases that end with /feed.
  • 5. For category feeds, an additional Snap! Website feature is required.