Welcome to the home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Variance and general internet tinkerer. Most of my writing these days is happening over at Why is this interesting?, a daily email full of interesting stuff. This site has been around since 2004. Feel free to get in touch. Good places to get started are my Framework of the Day posts or my favorite books and podcasts. Get in touch.

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What is RSS?

Ben asked the question on everyone’s mind (definitely not true, but still): what the hell is RSS? I’m going to do my best to answer it. First, here’s the description I used in my September article for American Demographics titled “This Way App.”

The power of RSS makes it difficult to compare it to traditional media. Calling it syndication evokes visions of I Love Lucy reruns or Oprah’s talk show being broadcast across the country. But that isn’t RSS. Many people describe RSS as TiVo for the Web. Part of what makes TiVo so appealing is the ability to pick and choose from across the network spectrum and record those shows you’re interested in. RSS, however, records an entire opt-in spectrum of feeds, rather than one show at a time. It’s like being able to choose your cable package with On Demand channels only. That way, when you get home from work, rather than watching what’s on at that time, you are provided with a list of every show that has appeared on your chosen channel lineup since the last time you watched. This way, if you only watch ESPN, HBO and NBC, you only need to subscribe to those 3 stations. And for those who watch 100 different channels, RSS can handle that too by spidering across all the sites you’ve chosen and posting update signs and signals for each of them.

Quite simply, RSS is a syndication technology that allows you to receive updates thanks to a handy-dandy aggregator (like Bloglines).

The best tutorial I’ve read is titled What is RSS: A basic tutorial introduction to RSS feeds and aggregators for non-technical people from Software Garden, Inc.. They answer the ‘what is RSS?’ question with this: “RSS stands for “Really Simple Syndication”. It is a way to easily distribute a list of headlines, update notices, and sometimes content to a wide number of people. It is used by computer programs that organize those headlines and notices for easy reading.” They then continue to explain the technology in reasonably easy to understand language, it’s definitely worth reading if you’re interested.

For me, RSS has changed the way I surf the web. I no longer go to a bunch of different websites, instead I just visit Bloglines and those websites come to me. You can get RSS feeds for the New York Times, Washington Post and, of course, NoahBrier.com (unfortunately at this time, I don’t believe either CNN.com or Drudge uses RSS). [Also, those links are to the RSS feed pages if you’re interested.]

If you’re interested in getting started, put your mouse over the XML button on the right side of my website and click on Bloglines. That should bring you to a page to sign up and get you set up with my feed to begin with. From there you can explore Bloglines for more feeds or go somewhere like Feedster’s Feedfinder, where you can type in the address of a website to see if they have a feed. Anyhow, hope that get’s you started and if you have any more questions I’d be happy to answer. Enjoy!

UPDATE: Scott Rafer at Feedster has pointed me to RSS feeds for CNN.com and Drudge. Both have bootleg feeds (not sanctioned by the respective websites), but they should get the job done nonetheless.

October 15, 2004