Syndicate Your Site with RSS

RSS may just be the Next Big Thing on the Internet. RSS, or Really Simple Syndication, provides a way for your web site to share headlines and other content with clients, staff, the public, and even related web sites. If your web site changes frequently, RSS is a great way to manage the changes. Or perhaps you want it to change more often, to keep visitors coming back!

What Is RSS?

RSS is a web content syndication format based on XML (we discussed the XML data language in our Q2, 2003 issue). Since RSS is a universal format, any web site can publish an RSS "news feed," and any RSS reader can display headlines and articles from any RSS-enabled web site. Users run RSS software which alerts them automatically when a new article is posted online. Sometimes other web sites can draw upon RSS feeds, such as the ABC News headlines displayed and updated automatically on ITS StartCenter. In this fashion articles from your web site might be posted automatically on other web sites all around the world! Web sites can even have more than one RSS feed, for different topics. RSS commonly appears on news and "blog" web sites that are frequently updated, such as the New York Times, MSNBC, ABC News, and the Wall Street Journal.

Setting Up RSS

RSS works best if articles – or at least the headline and a summary – are stored in a database online. The RSS feed can query the database and automatically pick up the latest headlines, which it then converts into XML code. The staff merely adds the new information into the database, and the new headline is automatically distributed to all subscribers. Adding articles can be accomplished through the use of online forms so data can be entered from a web browser, to speed the process.

Using RSS

So how does one "subscribe" to an RSS feed? By using reader or news aggregator software. Many types of software exist, from web-based programs to programs that run on your desktop, to plugins that run inside your web browser. Most are free. The web-based readers and most programs also compile lists of RSS feeds to make it easy to pick and search for interesting content. Even large Internet companies like Yahoo! provide RSS reader software to attract members to their free My Yahoo! service by allowing RSS feeds to display on a personalized home page. See the "What’s New In IT" section of for links to several popular readers, and our RSS feed.

A web site that publishes headlines using RSS will typically display an orange "XML" or "RSS" graphic...more than one if several channels (e.g., topics, or columns) are published. This image links directly to the RSS code, so users can copy the feed’s address into their favorite RSS reader by right clicking it and choosing "Copy Shortcut" or "Copy Link Location" and pasting the link into their reader. RSS readers often have a "Feed" or "Add Feed" button, or a File/New menu item, to start the process of adding a new feed.

After that, depending on the software used, headlines might scroll across the bottom of the screen, show up automatically in the RSS reader, or display when a channel is selected. Users can then click on the headline to open the full story on the host web site.


May 2005

Send this article to a friend!
Subscribe to The ITS Connection

Related articles