RSS – Latest of Internet

(This articles uses i3pep.org as an example for explaining the RSS Feed concept. i3pep.org is no longer in existence, and all its articles are now part of India Point Web Network at http://indiapoint.net/ss/ and is focused on Social Sciences)

If someone just thought that this is an article about the Hindu Cultural Organisation, then they have just missed the point. This is about the latest and popular method of having internet on your desktop (see the screenshot below). I myself was unaware of this very interesting and useful thing, until I started on seriously with building my website. One thing led to another and my knowledge increased.

RSS is acronym for Really Simple Syndication. Some prefer to call it Rich Site Summary. But what even that means? I would ask myself. I would explain my discovery of this whole thing in a simple manner.

The i3pep.org website feeds
are www-valid feeds.
  [Valid RSS]  [Valid Atom]

All of us who use internet, are well aware of email. In some ways RSS is quite similar to email, but in a different manner. In email you get emails from your friends and people you know. You have an inbox where all the emails come in. For those who know the email system in a more advanced way, would know that one can subscribe to various newsletters on the internet, and as soon as a new newsletter would be dispatched, all the subscribers would get the newsletter in their inbox. A bit more advanced thing is discussion forums. Here the various users are able to send email and each such email is automatically sent to all the subscribers (an example is that of yahoogroups). A similar thing but with different technological configuration is newsreader. Here also it is just like a discussion forum, but it works not on SMTP, but on NNTP server.

RSS is extension of this thing. Here if one subscribes to an RSS feed from a particular website, then whenever that website is updated, the subscriber would be automatically able to retrieve the new additions on their desktop. However this would require RSS reader. This is just like the email system, except that it fetches the RSS feed from the website. RSS is also called XML (extensible markup language). Usually in various websites, one can see XML written within an orange button. This is a standard way of denoting the RSS feed. On this website on the right hand column, one can see RSS written. One can subscribe to it and easily get the additions on this website on their desktop. The address of the RSS feed can be had by right clicking on the RSS link and copy the link location. Now paste that link location into the RSS-reader, and you have the latest on the website at your desktop. By the way, the address of the RSS feed for i3pep.org is:

http://www.i3pep.org/archives/feed/rss2/

Now why has RSS become popular? This is quite easy to understand. Often a website would be of interest to the readers. However the website may contain various topics and articles that may not be of interest to them – only a few of them may be of interest. In such a situation, if one keeps searching for the articles on the website, that would in many ways mean waste of time. By using RSS one can easily look at the summary of various articles that they get in their RSS reader, and only view in detail those articles that are of interest to them.

Their are various free and commercial RSS-readers available. Some may be faster to retrieve the data, others may be a bit slower in aggregating the RSS-feed. But they work. I have been using one such RSS reader and it works fairly fine. It reads RSS feed as well as ATOM feed.

Now what is ATOM? It is a similar thing like RSS. Both are competitive technologies, but RSS is more popular. Usually such website readers are able to read both the RSS and the ATOM feed. The ATOM feed for i3pep.org is:

http://www.i3pep.org/archives/feed/atom/

To read RSS and/or ATOM feed you can use a feed-reader. Else, if you use Firefox as your webbrowser, you can use the Sage plugin.

Ideally a website should have only one format of syndication feed. Usually, the most popular syndication feed format is RSS 2.0 format. However, many blog softwares have inbuilt more than one formats to be published, also websites may prefer to publish feeds in more than one format.

The syndication feeds of this website are:

Atom-feed: http://www.i3pep.org/archives/feed/atom/
RSS 0.92-feed: http://www.i3pep.org/archives/feed/rss/
RSS 1.0-feed: http://www.i3pep.org/archives/feed/rdf/
RSS 2.0-feed: http://www.i3pep.org/archives/feed/rss2/

rss-reader.jpgA picture speaks a thousand words, so you have a screenshot of my RSS-cum-ATOM-reader that would explain the things more easily.

Further reading on this subject can be done from the following webpages:

http://www-106.ibm.com/developerworks/library/w-rss.html
http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/tech/rss
http://www.faganfinder.com/search/rss.shtml
http://vishalshah.org/node/view/75
http://www.xml.com

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