What are XML Feeds and RSS?

Almost all websites are offering feeds nowadays. You will have likely have heard some buzzwords thrown about, such as RSS, XML, Atom, Aggregator, Syndication – but what does all that mean to you? If the answer is “nothing!”, I’ve tried my best to explain here what it’s all about – and what it means to you as a web user and/or business owner.

Personally, I’m heavily into web development. That means I need to know pretty much everything about things like Web Standards, Accessibility, Interface Design, Web Design, Web browsers, blah, blah, blah – the list goes on and on!

Now, whilst that sounds like another list of buzzwords, that’s just a handful of the stuff I have to learn! It’s really a great deal of subject matter to cover.

Of course, I don’t try and learn everything, as it would be practically impossible, but if there are three or four websites relating to each of these subjects that I would like to keep up to date with, that’s a whole lot of websites to visit on a regular basis.

In reality, there are many more on each subject that are relevant. However, the practicality would be impossible – how often I would actually get round to checking each of these sites has to remain to be seen. There simply wouldn’t be enough hours in the day!

This is where the concept of “feeds” comes into play. If each of these websites can provide a feed (also called RSS/XML/Atom/Site (or syndicated) feed), then I can subscribe to a large number of these, then browse just the titles or summaries of this potentially enormous number of articles.

I achieve this by a process known as aggregation, which simply means collecting all one’s feeds together in one place. One can use a web browser for this task (IE 7 or Firefox 2 have this functionality built-in), or standalone software for Windows (RssReader) or even a website that will accomplish this for you (Bloglines.com, Google Reader)

Once you have aggregated your feeds it is a simple task to update all of them with the click of a button, and then spend just a few minutes looking through the titles or summaries (or full posts, if you’re so inclined) for information or articles that are eye-catching and pertinent.

This in turn has reduced the amount of time it takes me to check all these sites for new and relevant information by a (hypothetical) factor of about a thousand! It also means I don’t miss hearing about new things when they’re still actually new, which is often critical in fast changing markets.

As for the implications for the casual user, I would hope that this is reasonably self-evident – you’ve saved a lot of surfing time! For business owners, time is money – and information research is often very time consuming.

Using feeds can help you keep track of sites and blogs regarding your market sector, and keep an eye on your competitors, with relative ease. Providing your own feeds via blogs and articles on your business website adds value to the site and can help to build customer loyalty as well as driving more traffic to your website – it all adds up towards that extra ‘edge’ in the market. Contact us now to see how we can help you add feeds or other features to your site.

Blog Tags: RSSFeedsSyndication