The Internet Marketing Driver: Glenn Gabe's goal is to help marketers build powerful and measurable web marketing strategies.

Monday, October 30, 2006

What's an RSS Feed? By Popular Request...




Sometimes, just because a technology is hot, we think everyone knows how to use it or benefit from it. I've heard a lot of questions over the past few months about RSS. So, I've decided to write this post to demystify RSS, explain how you can use it, and why you see it on almost every blog and website today. Think of this post as the Cliffs Notes version of subscribing to an RSS feed.

You should read this blog post if:

* You are tired of internet marketing professionals like myself throwing around technology-based acronyms!

* You have seen RSS, XML, and references to Feeds but have no idea what the heck that means.

* You have clicked a feed icon or link on a website and was taken to a page chock full of xml and had no idea what to do with it!

* You want to take advantage of RSS feeds to keep up to speed on your top interests.

Let's define RSS:
RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication (or Rich Site Summary), depending on where you find the definition. You can think of it as a way to quickly keep up to date on your favorite sites, blogs, news, sports, and just about anything else you can think of. It is an XML feed (Extensible Markup Language), which has become the defacto standard for exchanging data on the web. RSS feeds contain a hieracrchy of information that keep you up to date on your favorite information. View my blog's RSS feed now so you can get a good feel for what it looks like and how RSS feeds are structured.

OK,Why Would I Subscribe to an RSS Feed?
Good question and one I hear at least 15 times per week as I speak with business owners, marketing managers, coworkers, and friends. The easiest way to answer this question is to give you an example. Let's say you are a huge Yankees fan - this is a hypothetical situation of course...not like I'm a huge Yankees fan whose father grew up a few blocks from the house that Ruth built! :-) So, let's say that you travel extensively for business, you have two kids, and you haven't been able to watch the games on TV like you once could. Here comes RSS to the rescue! You can log into mlb.com and find the section for team RSS feeds. You will see an orange button labeled RSS or XML for each team. This is how mlb will enable you to access the RSS feed (and how most sites set up their feeds.) If you click the icon for the Yankees, you will be taken to the feed. This is where many people lose their patience... Nothing happens and it looks like a bunch of code. That's because you are supposed to subscribe to the feed you just accessed. But how? The quickest way is to copy the URL from the address bar in your browser. For example, highlight the entire URL (http://mlb.mlb.com/partnerxml/gen/news/rss/nyy.xml) and copy it. But you aren't done yet. You need a way to view the RSS feed, right? That's where RSS Aggregators come in (or newsreaders). Read on. Believe me, you are close to being done.

RSS Aggregators (Newsreaders or Readers):
Readers enable you to collect and view all of your RSS feeds in one place, without having to visit the actual website. Cool, right? A list of popular RSS Aggregators can be found here. Once you install your preferred reader, you need to subscribe to the feed you copied above (the URL we copied on mlb.com) Each reader is slightly different, but they all easily let you "subscribe to a feed". When you want to subscribe, you will need to paste the URL you copied above and click ok (or whatver the next step is in your preferred reader). The reader will do the rest, and in a few seconds, you will see the headlines from the feed in question. Click a headline and you will see a summary of the story along with a link to view the entire story on the web.

At this point, you are probably brainstorming a thousand ways to use RSS. You will also probably spend the next hour or two subscribing to RSS feeds that interest you. Once you set up your top feeds, you can simply open your reader and see the top stories or headlines from your favorite sites in seconds versus browsing to each site, waiting for pages to load, seeing advertising, so on and so forth. Then, you can easily link to the actual stories (on the web) for posts that interest you. For example, I subscribe to the Technology feed from Google News. The feed might show 50+ listings in the morning, but I can easily scan them, search the headlines, and find stories that interest me. Then I can visit the specific webpages to read the full story. This saves me a lot of time, considering I subscribe to 20-25 of the top internet marketing feeds.

Why do I see XML, RSS, Feed, etc. - Which one do I need?
The icons and links you see on websites (RSS, XML, RSS Feed, Site Feed) have become standards so visitors can easily know where to find the specific feed. For example, check out the webpage on cnn.com, which lists their RSS feeds. By clicking these icons or links, you will taken to a specific RSS feed. For example, click "Top Stories" and you will see the feed. Then just follow the steps listed above for subscribing to the feed in your preferred reader. Then move on to your next feed! It's definitely addicting!

Now what?
If you are as busy as most people are today, then you will benefit from RSS. It saves me hours per day, literally. Let's face it, if you had a mechanism that can centralize all of the top stories that you are interested in, lets you search and organize these top stories, and then provides a way for you to visit the webpages and stories that interest you most, then wouldn't you want to leverage that mechanism every day? Or at least a few times per week?

Although this was a brief introduction, I hope this post demystified RSS for you. If I did my job correctly, you will have subscribed to 10 or 15 feeds by the end of today. If it saves you 1 hour per day across 200 business days in the year, you just improved your efficiency by 25 business days (considering an 8 hour work day). Not bad for a blog post, huh? :-0

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1 Comments:

  • At 9:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Great post!!! Exactly what I wanted to know! Thank you.

     

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