What Is RSS?

RSS (Really Simple Syndication) can be confusing if you know little about it. Other people blather on about “subscribing,” “feeds,” “readers” and the like, while you have no idea what they’re talking about.

If this describes you, you’re in the right place.

RSS image

You can find definitions for “RSS” everywhere. Feedburner has a page on it; What Is RSS? is all about it; Wikipedia has a detailed page about it. The list goes on and on.

They’re all way too complicated.

You probably want to know more than just what RSS is. You also want to know why you should care, right? You’re busy enough already – you need a reason to add yet another thing to your life.

RSS, in really simple language

Here’s a great analogy for RSS, from Ed Lee (edited slightly):

Your web content is like water in a lake. Lots of people want it and you want them to have it.

But, to get it, they need to visit the lake, fill their buckets and then go back to their homes to use it.

RSS enables your audience to create a stream from your lake (where the content is) to their home (where they need the content).

I also like an explanation that Chris Anderson uses (paraphrased) (hat tip – Mitch Joel):

We used to have to go out and find stuff – news, sites, etc… RSS lets the web come to you.

For a slightly longer (3 minute) explanation, here’s a brilliant video from the Common Craft Show on what RSS is and how to use it:


Does this make sense to you?

(photo credit: photopia)

4 Responses toWhat Is RSS?

  • Thanks for taking the time to distill this into something simple. I guess it’s ironic that the word ‘simple’ is part of the name and yet it takes some thinking to ‘get’ the concept.

    I like to talk about RSS in terms of magazine subscriptions. The way we use the web today, going out to each website, is a little like visiting each magazine publisher’s headquarters to read their articles. We don’t do that in the real world. We subscribe to the magazines and they show up at our door. That’s how RSS works. The content is delivered right to us from many sources. We no longer have to visit each source to find and read the content that interests us.

  • I once heard someone say RSS is like setting the buttons on your car radio to stations you like. Once set, it’s simple to receive the content (music, talk, news) that you want. Similar concept to RSS.

    Also, when will RSS join PDF? Few people know what the letters P, D and F actually stand for, yet everyone uses the term and understands what the end result is. RSS will eventually get there, but now it’s confusing to the beginners – it’s not “really simple,” and what do you mean by “syndication?” they ask. Use the car radio (or Shannon’s magazine publisher) example and they get it.

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