Lets first take a closer look at RSS and how it can change how we access sites. What RSS does is creates a feed of the updates on a site which can now be delivered to readers, or more appropriately, pulled by software. This way, it becomes much easier to monitor a larger number of sites without having to go to each of these sites. Greg Notess provides the context for RSS:
Weblogs and news media sites share a common strength and a common weakness. With frequent updates, these sites help us keep track of the latest news, opinions, and rumors. Unfortunately, the frequent updates mean that we spend more time trying to keep up with them. So, we can check all of the news Web sites and blogs of interest every day, starting from our bookmarks or some other source. But this gets tedious rather quickly, especially as the number of sources of interest multiplies.
Another alternative is to get e-mail notification of updates. Many news sites offer this option. For other sites, current awareness tools like InfoMinder and WebSpector can be used to check for Web site updates and e-mail alerts and even include some of the changes. But again, as the number of sites covered increases, the daily e-mail inundation gets tedious as well, especially when combined with list mail, other e-mail, and all the junk mail that slips past the filters.
Here is an example of an RSS file. It looks like HTML, but is actually an XML file. The key lies in the three tags for link, title and description. The link provides the URL a sort of permalink to the item that has been updated, and the title and description give a flavour of the item. This is a format which can be read by special software. One example of that special software is a news reader, also called an RSS or News Aggregator.
For those who like to skim many of these frequently updated sources, a better approach is to find something that summarizes the new content, presents it in a compact format, combines multiple sources in one interface, and provides links to the full content to make it easy to pick and choose which new articles to read. And this is exactly what a news aggregator is designed to do.
RSS is a way of creating a broadcast version of a blog or news page. Anyone who has frequently updated content and is willing to let others republish it can create the RSS file. Typically called syndication, the RSS file is an XML formatted file that can be used at other sites or by other intermediary software such as news aggregators. The original incarnation was to use RSS to include several headlines on a personalized portal page. But an RSS feed can also be easily pulled into other functions, such as an aggregator.
Why is RSS and a News Reader useful? RSS provides an alternate way to check what has changed on a site it is a teaser (though some sites, especially weblogs, also offer the entire content through the RSS feed). A News Reader aggregates content from various feeds and enables a person to quickly navigate through large snippets of content.
Tomorrow: RSS and News Readers (continued)