October 9, 2003 spout

What Is An RSS Feed?

As a deadline nears and I spend an increasing amount of time avoiding the work I should be doing, I find a finance geek acquaintance of mine asking what an RSS feed is after I implored him to add one to his web site. This is a 20-year old that’s owned stock since he was 11, read 12,000 company reports in 2002, earned 155% on his money is the last 11 months and recently been given his own $35M mutual fund to manage (becoming the youngest ever mutual fund manager). If this guy doesn’t know what an RSS feed is, then I’m guessing at least some of my readers don’t know either (yes, I’m talking to you, Mom). When he asked me what an RSS feed was, this is what I told him:

An RSS feed is a thing of pure beauty. If you’ve ever been to a web site with an orange XML or RSS button, clicking it will yield a page that looks something like this:

<?xml version=“1.0” ?>
<rss version=”2.0 xmlns:dc=”http://purl.org/dc/elements/1.1/ xmlns:slash=”http://purl.org/rss/1.0/modules/slash/ xmlns:wfw=”http://wellformedweb.org/CommentAPI/>
<title>Marquee de Sells: Chris’s insight outlet</title>
<description>Thoughts that Chris Sells has about whatever interests him that day</description>
<dc:rights>Copyright 2002-2003, Chris Sells</dc:rights>
<title>The Wedding Toast</title>
<guid isPermaLink=”false>http://www.sellsbrothers.com/news/topic866</guid>
<dc:creator>Chris Sells</dc:creator>
<description>Don and I send out a video of a toast to a newly married couple. We get back their reactions via video. Not as nice as real-time, but I don’t get overseas much, so still very cool. You gotta love the Internet!</description>

While RSS is fairly unreadable for normal humans, computers eat it up. For example, if you read the RSS feed from my site on a regular basis, whenever I make a new post, you’ll see a new entry in the RSS feed. RSS feeds aren’t useful for you, but when fed to an RSS reader” program, you can keep up to date on literally hundreds of web sites without having to browse to them manually. The RSS reader will check each RSS feed to which you subscribe, letting you know when something new on a web site has happened and showing you what it is, giving you the option to follow up or ignore the new thing. Thousands of sites have RSS feeds, letting me keep up on a bunch of things:

  • My friends’ writings
  • Global and financial news
  • People talking about topics of interest to me, like my favorite technologies or my latest book
  • My favorite comics strips (I need my daily Dilbert!)
  • The latest product and articles releases from Microsoft
  • Practically anything else I care about on a regular basis

I keep up on all of this without ever visiting the web sites themselves them til something of interest catches my eye.

There are a bunch of RSS readers in the world, but my favorite is SharpReader. If you install this program and start it up, SR will check all of the RSS feeds that you subscribe to on a regular basis in the background while you work, notifying you of something new by changing it’s icon from blue to yellow. If you decide to install SharpReader, your next stop should be NewsIsFree.com, where you’ll find all kinds of RSS feeds in any number of categories. After subscribing to a few of those, you’ll want to stop by Tapestry, where you can find RSS feeds for tons of daily comic strips. If you want to get fancy, you can go to GoogleAlert, where you can subscribe to searches so that whenever Google finds something new on your search topic, your RSS reader will let you know.

If you find the ability to track hundreds of web sites without surfing to each of them manually, RSS is for you. If you find my instructions intimidating, ask a computer friend to help you out (I’ll be home for Christmas, Mom).