Posted by: jimmydlg | October 18, 2008

Rich Site Summary (RSS)

Most people are probably familiar with the general concept of RSS Feeds: a document that includes full or summarized text, plus metadata such as publishing dates and authorship. But why is this important and why is this special?

Way back in 1997, Dave Winer got the idea to separate the content of his website from his website’s design. His website was, and he called the process of separating the content Scripting News.

When data is sent from a web server to your machine on the Internet, it’s sent as a series of letters, numbers, and other human readable characters (or letters on a computer screen.) When your browser receives this information, it parses it, or, breaks it up and figures out where to put it on the screen so the author’s intended rendition is displayed. One easy way to parse a language is by defining “Tokens” or common elements that signify keywords, or the beginning and and of specific elements.

HTML contains a vastly limited vocabulary made up of these keywords that are used to describe position and formatting of content. In fact, HTML 4.0 contains only 91 keywords (besides any content text) that can be used to describe elements within HTML, and hardly any of these keywords were appropriate to accurately and concisely describe only the content itself.

XML differs from HTML in that, instead of defining what content or tokens can be expected, it provides for the understanding necessary to describe any kind of content and is still easily parsed by browsers and other software. Think of HTML as music and XML as an MP3 player.

RSS, and Dave Winer’s new “Scripting News” format is based off XML, not HTML, which affords an unlimited number of ways to describe the contents of that XML. What Dave Winer realized is that if he separated the Content from his design, anyone could format the Content in their own browser however they wished.

When I gave the definition of RSS Feeds earlier, it was a definition describing the purpose of the documents generated in RSS. RSS itself is actually a specification, or a set of rules one must follow to generate an RSS document (or “feed”.) The flexibility of XML allowed developers to craft a special document that contained what they considered the perfect vocabulary for describing only Content, and while RSS has fewer keywords than HTML, they keywords in an RSS document precisely describe the content. Extending my analogy from earlier, RSS would be on the same MP3 player as HTML, but it would be audio book. Both music and audio books could describe stories, but you can see how an audio book’s sole purpose is to describe a story.

In addition, because RSS content is standard, multiple RSS Sources can be combined in one location, or aggregated, without affecting the design of the consumer of those RSS Feeds.

So here we have a convention for describing information that’s standardized, easy to parse, efficient (since it doesn’t contain unnecessary vocabulary), widely used and content can be easily aggregated. Because of these traits, RSS has wide reaching effects on the Internet (and on me as well.)

Because it’s standardized, I don’t have to spend time concentrating on the design necessary to convey my ideas. I simply have to “fill in the form” and because of that I can spend more time concentrating on the content.

Since RSS is easy to parse and efficient, I can use it on my Windows Mobile phone to easily access content through an aggregated news reader application and have recent and developing news right in the palm of my hands (and I have been making use of RSS from the Internet on my phone since around 2003, I’m currently trying out a new RSS reader called Viigo and it’s also available for BlackBerry.)

Because RSS is widely used, I can gain the benefits of both publishing content and knowing it can easily be integrated by others as well as having a vast array of content to choose to acquire myself. This in itself means that I could enjoy the fact my opinions in a personal blog could reach many people, or my ideas in a professional blog could help promote my business.

Also, since RSS can be so easily aggregated, I spend much less time visiting page after page to get the new information that matters most to me, and more time digesting that information.

With RSS I can stay informed and inform others.. what more could I ask for?



  1. I agree that RSS is a great tool to get all your info at your finger tips or to even get your business well known. Millions of users log in everyday to use it yet still alot of people dont use RSS for the fact they dont know what it is or wish to add another program to there already arsonal of web items yet that is my persnal opinion here.

  2. I personally feel as though RSS will most likely become a P.L.E. for me, the fact that it’s so simple and easy. In addition to what (miriam8099) said, a lot of people still don’t really know about it. You have to sort of really be into the whole “web” scene to actually see it as efficient as most “normal” people get online, maybe check their e-mail and then get offline. I think if more people know about and use this powerful tool, it would probably become a P.L.E. for many other people because it is sometimes stressful having to go to to find something and get ‘1000000000’ results, whereas you may find one good site with useful information and the feeds will keep coming to you!

  3. Wow, Jimmy, your blog adding more information to me. I only research to understand what is RSS. I guest like Jashele wrote, it PLE to me. I could now starting to use and get the benefit out of learning. Because when I get my master education, my research paper, was hard working. It wasn’t the writing part, but the searching and updating the information through the internet. Now, it make me wish I know RSS than. But again, I am glad to know it now that later.

  4. mariam8099; I agree with you, I think the key here is that many people is afraid of using this tools, one reason may be that it’s too much information all together, imagine you are receiving from many different places (like we are) and you don’t keep up with, you will have a hard time reading or at least scanning that information, unless, you are someone who checks and uses this tool in a daily basis.

  5. Wow Jimmy your writing style amazes me. Jashele I agree that going to Google and getting x million results is stressful but I would say that about 80-90% of those are good sites to go to.

  6. Like others say: a lot information that I couldn’t find easily. I think the way that you write is for people in the field of Web design, like us.

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