Understanding RSS starts with understanding what it is. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. It is helpful in many different capacities.
Granted, RSS was more popular (or at least discussed more often) in years past. But, it hasn’t completely gone away and in fact, many of those who truly understand RSS (and its capabilities) are using it behind-the-scenes.
Pretty much, the purpose of this site is to give you the option of becoming one of those in the know when it comes to RSS. Whether you decide or want to use it is up to you, but at least you can be one of those who are informed.
So, shall we get started?
What is RSS, Technically-Speaking?
RSS makes use of XML. If you know what XML is, great, let’s keep going. If you don’t know what XML is, the good news is that you do not necessarily have to know what it is to get the basic idea of RSS and certainly not in order to use RSS. But, let’s put it this way, XML is used in even more places (dare I say?) than RSS and is even used in cases of importing data into WordPress. If you are using WordPress for your blog, you are interacting with XML but that does not mean that you need to be a programmer. Ok, pat yourself on the back and let’s keep going…
The idea behind RSS was so that we could subscribe to websites and the code would do the work for us, by scanning the site to which we subscribed and letting us know when information changed. So, it was a way of knowing when new content was added to our subscribed site. Since then, we have entered into the world of social media marketing and while social media marketing often involves manual promotion (instead of the automation of the RSS), it is something that we tend to enjoy, as humans, and it has changed the face of “subscribed sites.” In fact, do you even hear that term or phrase anymore? See.. my point exactly 🙂
RSS technology is not limited to only blogs and can be used by any site that wants to broadcast its information and changes (updates) to their site. It may require hiring a programmer, or better yet, obtaining code (or plugin if you have WordPress), but it is doable. Then again, if you have WordPress, you already have it, whether you are using the WordPress for a blog or as a way of having a website online (which more and more people are doing, using WordPress to create a site.
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A Little Bit of RSS History or Background
For the most part, RSS is still available in most blogs, built into the coding (remember I mentioned that it uses XML?). For a long time, bloggers would know their RSS Feed URL and would offer it to people, have it available as a link on their site (so others could obtain it), and even in some cases, include it in their email signature. It isn’t seen as often as it used to be seen, but…
- That is more of a recent change (RSS not being mentioned or linked on sites);
- It (lack of mentioning) doesn’t mean that RSS is not still at work and available on most sites.
Traditionally speaking, the RSS (in the case of sites and blogs) would send a headline and excerpt in its syndication process. Then, the link (sometimes via the headline or title) is usually clickable to visit the original article or news item.
It used to be that a feed reader was needed in order to receive the RSS. Google Reader used to be a really popular one until it was discontinued. From what I observed, many people simply stopped using RSS Feed Readers (called an aggregator) to read up on sites, as it was likely too inconvenient (or expensive) to find a replacement. Besides, our online culture had changed and it wasn’t necessarily required if you could look at Facebook and find anything you wanted there (and even subscribe to a blog’s Facebook page and get updates that way).
Personally, I opted to pay a low (but not free) prices for NetNewsWire, which also worked on my Mac and was the closest thing to the original Google Reader that I could find. Besides, I think it was only about $10 so it is not like it broke the bank. And, I have found that when things cost money, even a minimal amount, they are more likely to stick around and not go away, like their free counterparts. And, that has been the case, NetNewsWire is still around and it has been serving me well. Oh, and I am not an affiliate and I do not benefit in any way by recommending them.
Outgoing vs. Incoming RSS Feeds
On a really basic level, there are two basic types of feeds. There are also two types of formats (or versions) but more on that in a bit. The types of feeds that I am talking about here has more to do with the purpose. If you understand the purpose, it is easier to understand 1) if you want to use it; and 2) how to use it (what software to use, etc.).
There is the outgoing RSS feed, which has more to do with you sharing it with others. This is more like the links that we see (or used to see) on websites offering for us to subscribe to the RSS feed. This is where the blog or site owner is offering the feed for others to view (all at once) all of the blog posts or to subscribe so that they will be notified (depending on the RSS service the publisher uses) whenever there is a new blog post.
Now, when it comes to outgoing, it does depend on the quality of the service that is used by the publisher (site owner). If there is no particular service, the browser takes over and responds to the outgoing RSS feed in the way(s) that is/are described below, in our bulleted list. At the point where you are viewing/reading/subscribing/consuming the RSS feed, it is incoming to you. So, that is the other type, is the incoming RSS feed. That is where you are the one reading the RSS feed of another person or another site or another service.
In both cases, as the outgoing (where you would be the publisher/site owner) or incoming (where you would be the consumer/subscriber), there are options to pay for better service if the free service is not adequate. In the examples of creative uses of RSS, below, I mention the Feedblitz service which is a way to automate the outgoing RSS process for the publisher. There are also options mentioned in this post, related to being a consumer of RSS feeds if you do not want to let your browser figure it out for you and you would prefer to have a bit of control over the process. Like I mentioned for the service that I use, it is much better than free and I only paid about $10 for it one time (no recurring fees) so it was worth it.
If a site offers a link to their RSS feed, and assuming they have set it up correctly, it will do one of two things:
- It will trigger your aggregator software (assuming you have the software installed on your computer or “triggerable” by your browser. If not, often times your browser will suggest an option.
- The website owner has linked what may have the RSS icon (suggesting an RSS feed) to another service. This is actually what I recommend because it makes it less confusing for the reader/subscriber. More on this option later.
It is possible that you run across a case of the old-style RSS with a need to copy and paste the link into your aggregator. But, I find that highly unlikely. Why? Most browsers have accommodated for that possibility and suggest how you should access the feed (as mentioned above) so you are not likely to have to know how to do the old copy/paste thing with RSS feeds (thankfully).
Creative Uses of RSS for Blog Subscriptions
There are many creative uses and possibilities for RSS. Granted, people may say that there were more possibilities in the past but I think it is more of a case where the creative uses of RSS seemed more creative in the past. Why? It is because there was less available in general. I mean, waaaaaay back, it was a case where you HAD to learn how to code in HTML or hire a designer. If you did neither of these two things, you simply didn’t have a site. Then, WordPress came on the scene and you no longer had to know HTML or you could learn just enough to tinker with it and fix it in the mix, with other software, like WordPress. Ok, I digress… but, I think you get the point. The point is that we have so much more at our fingertips than what was available 20 years ago. Hey, even social media has moved us forward by leaps and bounds (and yes, there was a time before social media!). So, if someone says that there were creative uses for RSS but that RSS is no longer used or some such thing you are probably talking to some old foggie who has been around so long that he or she forgot that there is such a thing as sliced bread 😀 (just kidding, of course – no insults intended 🙂 ).
I use (and recommend) Feedblitz because it utilizes what is already built into our WordPress blogs but presents it in an appealing format for RSS. It is in a format that readers can understand without having to be programmers to use – whether you are the publisher or the subscriber. But, don’t take my word for it and go ahead and try it for free and see if it is automation that you can use on your site (or, in my case, sites!). Feedblitz offers newsletter options, again, so that you don’t have to think as much and don’t have to work as hard. The following is done for you, once you have the Feedblitz account set up (and you can set up several – all – of your sites under one account with no per-site fee or anything):
- automation (have you heard of funnels? – yes, that!);
- graphically appealing presentation – that is done for you, for the most part, but able to be edited if you are a designer;
- newsletter subscription (you create the blog posts and if your reader subscribes on your site, they automatically receive the newsletter in their email box;
- what we just said (above)? Yeah, that for social media, too. You name the platform and they have it!
- much more! I’m going to stop because this list is sounding more like a sales pitch than information about RSS, which was the original intention. If you are interested in Feedblitz, I know you will check it out for yourself and not because I am babbling about it. The idea is that you know the capability that exists out there, should you opt to use more of that RSS functionality in your life or not.
Portfolio Site to Display Your Writing Skill(s)
Another creative use (time-saving!) for RSS is to have it feed directly into your portfolio blog. This is perfect for those of you who are writers and either has a tone of blogs (like me) or write for a bunch of other sites or both. Now, it isn’t cheap, but for those who write a lot(!) and need to have a site where they can show their clients their work in one place, without having to remember what they wrote when and where, this site is for them (you). Yes, I use it but I don’t benefit from sharing this information with you. I am not an affiliate or anything. And, like I said, it isn’t cheap but it is worth it when you calculate how much time it would take you to manually maintain a portfolio site or to respond to clients with links to articles all around the globe. This way, you can send potential clients to your portfolio site and let them choose whether they want to hire you as their writer or not. You can even set it up so that you can send your client to a specific category on your portfolio site. That way, if you write for different types of blogs, you can categorize them and then show your clients those specific articles. The sky is the limit! So, the software (that isn’t cheap but is worth it) is >> wprssaggregator.com. My portfolio site, so you can see it in action is at deboraheanderson.com.
Benefits of RSS
Note: In some cases, these benefits are benefits that were experienced in the past. That doesn’t mean that these benefits do not still exist, but as we mentioned, people have changed their behavior and in some cases, have obtained similar benefits by other means, such as social media. So, we will list the benefits for you in this section but keep in mind that RSS is not your only option. We simply want to keep you informed 🙂
- RSS usually provides a quick way to receive the update from a site. This is because the scanning is done automatically, behind-the-scenes, so it is usually already done for you and you get the response that there is an update available for you to read and if you already use RSS frequently (as a consumer/reader) it is not unusual that you already have the aggregator software open or you are ready for it in your browser, making it convenient.
- SPAM issues – since you have opted to subscribe to a site’s RSS feed, you can generally expect to avoid the SPAM issue. If the site itself has SPAM or allows more advertising than what you would like, you can always unsubscribe from the RSS feed and the problem is solved.
- By receiving the updates quickly, the reader can pick and choose which links he or she wants to click on for more information (taking the reader to the site for the full article).
- It is possible to view multiple RSS feeds all at once (sort of) via the Aggregator software. (Also, as a publisher, it is possible to create convenient feeds for your subscribers, featuring different blogs that you own, possibly luring them to some of your other sites — possible with FeedBlitz).
- As a publisher, with a customized feed, like those available by using a service like Feedblitz, you can advertise, say, a new feature that you may offer each month. Or, use it for a product launch. The subscribers will be receiving information throughout the month, but this gives you a built-in list (and Feedblitz now has enhanced list and automation capabilities) where you can use that availability to enhance your product launch process and increase your profits (hopefully)
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You may see references to RSS 1.x (which is really old now) but it was far-reaching and it worked with almost all systems. Now I would be concerned that it is so old that the opposite is true that it does NOT work with some systems. There is also RSS 2.x and that one is fairly easy to use, even manually. But, for the most part, these days, you do not have to worry about either one. If you use a service like Feedblitz, it is already handled so you don’t have to worry about it all. And, as a subscriber, it is also handled for you by the software that you have selected (generally speaking one would expect that, right?).
Ok, that pretty much covers it, for now. I know that I made several references to FeedBlitz and yes, I am an affiliate. The intention was not to make this an article about FeedBlitz… lol But, if you are a publisher, it simply is a great option for building your subscription base and if you are already using WordPress, it is an easy transition. As a user, you can also enjoy RSS, when you find it available (which it is, by default, on WordPress).
So, there you have it. Let us know how you enjoy (or don’t enjoy) RSS!