The following post was submitted by for the Blogging for Beginners Series by Aaron Brazell. Aaron is a major contributer over at b5 (he is a major player in keeping our servers in order) and writes on numerous blogs including Emerging Earth and Technosailor.com. I asked Aaron to write an introduction to RSS. Here’s what he has to say on the topic:
Catchy title, no? Thanks! I’m proud of it.
RSS. You’ve heard about it. You’ve read about it. Bloggers encourage the use of RSS. But what is it? What does it give you in terms of benefits and promotion? How can you use it to aggregate the vast amounts of information out there? These are all valid questions.
RSS, or Really Simple Syndication, was a concept introduced in the late 1990s to present data in a open format for data exchange. In other words, much like the meaning of its name, it was a way to syndicate data for other services, computers or tools to understand. Because RSS is a special XML-based format, it is intended for computers to understand and not for human consumption.
There are about a dozen varieties of syndication formats, most of which are versions of RSS, but some, such as Atom and RDF which also provide a syndication format. A more advanced article could be written about the nuances, benefits and drawbacks for each of these but, for this article, they all have the same basic features and present challenges as well.
How do I Start Publishing RSS on my Blog?
If you use one of the major blog platforms such as WordPress or Moveable Type, you don’t have to do anything. You may not even realize it, but your blog is already publishing an RSS feed and most modern browsers will alert your readers to this fact
Figure 2: Internet Explorer 7 has a grayed out RSS icon on one of its toolbars. The icon becomes orange when an RSS feed is available on the site.
Instantly, that means opportunity for you. I describe this concept in You Can Blog in this way: if you envision a piece of paper with a square drawn on it, that’s blogging without RSS. However, if you place two squares together, one directly above the other and connect the respective corners of the two squares, you will have a cube. This is blogging with RSS. RSS provides a new dimension to your blogging.
Two dimensional blogging requires readers to visit your site to read your material. It requires that interaction be confined to the browser and the website, whereas three dimensional blogging gives the reader the chance to read your entries through an email client, web based news aggregator or other similar central location.
The benefits of RSS for your readers are (to name a few):
- Central location that they can subscribe or unsubscribe to the blogs that they want to read and not have to remember to visit the site. For instance, I subscribe to over 150 different blogs through a feed reader. If I had to remember to go visit each of those sites every day I’d get completely flustered.
- Another benefit is near real-time access to your most current content. When you publish, the RSS feed is republished and available for your subscribers to view. That means that you can take a vacation and they will pick up on your blog content as soon as you start publishing again
The benefits of RSS for bloggers are:
- A wider audience. Bloggers can rest confidently knowing that their content is being automatically fed out to interested subscribers who want to be the first to see anything new that you write.
- A Reader for Life. Once you have convinced a reader, through quality content and a positive reading experience, that they should subscribe to your blog it is awful hard to lose them. Most of the time, blogs that go into feed readers just stay there. There’s no harm done to the reader in having a subscribed blog that doesn’t update often.
Using RSS to Find New Content
RSS provides another benefit than providing a syndicated format for your content. It also serves you on the other end – receiving relevant content from other publishers and bloggers. If you are a blogger and do not use a feed reader like Bloglines or Feed Demon (or one of the many other options out there), then shame on you!
Most of the feed readers provide a way to group feeds according to topic. Bloglines provides category groupings while Feed Lounge takes an approach similar to Gmail’s “Label” feature. “Tags”, as Feed Lounge calls them, provide groupings of blogs together.
As a blogger, this is a great way to get the flow of information on a regular routine. No longer do you have to go Googling for things pertaining to your niche, now you can get them coming to you. This is especially important for bloggers who make a living out of cranking out content on, perhaps, more than one blog.
As you become more involved with RSS and understand how it can help your blog grow from a handful to readers to upwards of thousands without much effort, you may benefit from some of these services.
- FeedBurner is an excellent service that offers feed replacement. In other words, it monitors your existing RSS feed and says, “I can do that better”… and does! It has a number of monetization features such as adding Adsense to your feed. It also tracks how many subscriptions your feed has and offers a host of other options to help you get the most out of your feed.
- Email Services such as Gmail, the soon to be released new Yahoo Mail give the users of these services the ability to keep track of websites of interest in an unobtrusive way.
- RSS-to-IM services such as that of immedi.at provide a means to get new news delivered to the instant messenger of your choice. Useful for those who forget to check a feed reader but want to know as soon as Darren Rowse hits the publish button.
Stop and Think
RSS is not the be all and end all of blogging. It is certainly possible to blog without using RSS either to collect your content or to publish it to the masses. However, the sheer benefit in terms of traffic opportunity and exposure should be enough to make any future Problogger stop and examine the technology.