RSS – Really Simple Syndication

Just to fill in the “missing” entry on 9 May, I’m gonna talk about RSS. Many sites offer RSS, but I’ve been slow to catch up on whats that. It simply stands for Really Simple Syndication, which is a way of staying updated with the new stuff on a web site.

The best use is on News and Blogs websites, where the headlines of the updated news are published on RSS. RSS clients then regularly check for updates and the user is informed of any new things on the site (either manually or automatically).

Basically, the server-side (news/blog website) publishes a RSS feed, which is a small XML file containing a list of the updated items. Each item contains a title, a URL link, date and a text description. RSS clients, known as aggregators, regularly poll the XML file to download any updates for the user. The updates may be in a link form where the user can click back to access the website. This greatly increases the traffic for the news site, and allows users to stay updated with site content.

Aggregators come in a few forms:
* standalone applications – which a user must keep running in the background;
* plug-ins – such as a Mozilla or email client plug-in that shows as an icon in the host program;
* websites – a web application that does aggregation
* scripts – PHP, ASP or other web-based scripts, dedicates a small space on the site to display the updated content.

Each type has its advantages – standalone apps usually support notification such as a sound or popup when news arrive; plug-ins reduce the number of running applications you have; websites allow you to see what news you’ve already seen irregardless of the machine you use; scripts allow you integrate RSS into any of your website.

I have tried RSS and installed one custom PHP/AJAX RSS script into the starbean forum. I modified the script to do a nicer fade in/out to swap the news from CNA.

Competing technologies to RSS include Atom and RDF, which are also XML formats for online syndication.

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