Archive for Syndic8

Azeem Ahmad – Week 2 – What is RSS?

This week I have spent researching RSS for my final project. I decided, with some help from the lecturer, that doing something with RSS will make me more employable as a potential journalist. So without further ado, here is my understanding of what RSS is, how to use and understand it, and other topics which interested me whilst I researched it.

What is RSS?

  • Really Simple Syndication
  • Rich Site Summary

RSS solves a problem for people who regularly use the web. It allows people to easily stay informed by retrieving the latest content from the sites they are interested in, rather than users having to trawl through various sites and signing up to newsletters.

RSS also solves a multitude of problems that webmasters commonly face, such as increasing traffic, and gathering and distributing news. It can also be the basis for additional content distribution services.

The number of sites offering RSS feeds is growing rapidly and includes big names like Yahoo News, BBC, Sky Sports, Mirror.

Syndic8 offers a directory of the most popular RSS feeds of the internet.

How to use and understand RSSRSS defines an XML grammar (a set of HTML-like tags) for sharing news. Each RSS text file contains both static information about the site, plus dynamic information about the new stories, all surrounded by matching start and end tags.Each story is defined by an <item> tag, which contains a headline TITLE, URL, and DESCRIPTION. Here’s an example:

  <title>RSS Resources</title>
  <description>Defined in XML, the Rich Site Summary (RSS) format has
  quietly become a dominant format for distributing headlines on the Web.
  Our list of links gives you the tools, tips and tutorials you need to get
  started using RSS. 0323</description>

Each RSS channel can contain up to 15 items and is easily parsed using Perl or other open source software. Perl is an open source scripting program that is faster than C. Coincidentally, Perl is written in C and both programs occupy a large amount of CPU time.

SyndicationPublishing an RSS feed is just the beginning. RSS, really a mini database containing headlines and descriptions of what’s new on your site, is a natural for layering on additional services. In addition to displaying the news on other sites and headline viewers, RSS data can flow into other products and services like PDA’s, mobile phones, and even voice updates. Email newsletters can easily be automated with RSS. In this Web-like way RSS encourages multiple points of entry to one primary article, rather than multiple copies of the same article (which introduces its own maintenance problems). As Google shows, the sites with the most back-links win, and those with the freshest content also win. RSS, therefore, creates a win-win situation. Once you have data in a standardized format, new forms of content distribution channels are only limited by your imagination, and scripting ability.

RSS Aggregators (from webreference)There are a number of RSS news aggregators out there that automatically suck up RSS files from content providers and present the news in a variety of ways (,,, Many make it easy to drop an RSS feed into your site. In fact, O’Reilly’s new Meerkat Open News Wire service, is an example of what can be done with RSS and some clever code. Meerkat aggregates the currently available technical RSS feeds, and filters new stories by time, topic, keywords, and even regular expression. Narrowing the new stories down to your interests is a breeze, all entirely automated.O’Reilly Network’s President and CEO Dale Dougherty: “What interests me about RSS is the ability to begin to monitor the flow of new information on the net. We all know what sites exist; what we really want to know is how often sites generate new information. As a writer and editor, I thought Meerkat would be valuable to watch what was happening in different technical communities. What I especially like about RSS and looking at feeds from hundreds of sites is that you can see the Web work at a grassroots level. I thought that Meerkat is the kind of tool I’d want to keep track of what is going on. We realized that this wasn’t just useful to editors but to anyone who wants to be able to respond to new information. I’m not sure where Meerkat will take us, but it feels like it’s opening up a remarkable new view of the Web. We’d really like to see more and more sites become RSS-enabled. RSS can do for them what Yahoo did for them in 1994, which is drive traffic by letting others know what you are doing. The difference is now we can notify others not just of a new site, but of new stories — new activity on our site.”The Future of RSSThanks to the efforts of the likes of Jonathan Eisenzopf (, Dave Winer and Netscape, future versions of RSS will incorporate popular additional fields like news category, time stamps, and more. With thousands of sites now RSS-enabled and more on the way, RSS has become perhaps the most visible XML success story to date. RSS improves news distribution by making everyone a potential news provider. It utilises the Web’s most valuable asset – content – and makes displaying high-quality relevant news on a website easy.

What this means for my project

After all of that background knowledge of RSS and the possibilities of it, I think for my project i’m going to ‘mash-up’ around four popular RSS feeds and combine them into one. There is a CMS online that allows people to do this in a very basic way –, but it is very basic, and i would prefer to learn how its done rather than letting a machine or software do it for me. It will make me more employable as a journalist and add to my skills base so potential employers will rub their hands with glee when they see me applying for a job!


My apologies for not listing the sources earlier – my main source of information was from here. I did also browse and read a few other websites about RSS, but not in enough detail to include it into this post, or to reference it.