RSS Feeds

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Brief Description

RSS is a web-based standard that delivers information to users in an easily accessible, sharable and 'remixable' format. RSS stands for 'Really Simple Syndication' and information publishers such as bloggers, news organizations, and podcasters use it to broadcast their regularly updated content so that it can quickly and easily picked up by other media, much in the same way that the Associated Press syndicates its news stories in order to be picked up by newspapers throughout the world. It is often said that RSS liberates web-based content from format by packaging it in such a way that it can be shared and republished on other websites and newsreader services in new and diverse formats.

Here is a brief video explaining RSS.

RSS in plain English:


According to Wikipedia, the concept behind RSS was born as early as 1995, but it wasn't until March 1999 that 'RDF Site Summary,' the first official version of RSS (RSS 0.9), was released for use on the portal. Later that year, several RDF elements were removed and replaced by scripting elements from a news syndication framework, thereby prompting RSS to be renamed 'Rich Site Summary.' Over the following years, Netscape withdrew its involvement from RSS development and the ensuing void was filled by two independent entities: the RSS-DEV Working Group and another team led by Dave Winer. In 2000, the RSS-DEV Working Group released RSS 1.0, which reintroduced support for RDF and added XML namespaces. This was later followed by the release of RSS 2.0 by Winer's team, which further refined the scripting elements of an earlier release while adding XML support (and subsequent redubbing of RSS as 'Really Simple Syndication). Thus, although they share the same initials, RSS 1.0 and RSS 2.0 constitute distinct metadata formats and, depending on who you talk to, different initials. As if all this weren't confusing enough, a new format named Atom was developed in 2003 in an effort to free RSS from contentious disputes over formatting and naming issues.

Although naming and formatting issues remain unsettled, in 2005 the Microsoft Internet Explorer and Outlook teams announced that they would adopt a common feed iconexternal image feed-icon-12x12-orange.gif, which first appeared in the Mozilla Firefox browser. Opera later followed suit, thereby replacing the variety of icons formerly used and creating an industry standard for marking feeds across the different formats.

When to use

We recommend using RSS feeds and Newsreader software if:
  • You spend a lot of time visiting the same websites, blogs, etc. regularly to check for updates;
  • You want to start following multiple blogs and news sites' updated content in 'real time'; and
  • You want to remix content from a variety of different websites and services and republish them on your own website, blog, etc.

How to use

Taking a page out of the guys from Common Craft's book, you can start using RSS feeds in three easy steps:
  1. Create an account in a Newsreader service.
  2. Find a list of websites and blogs that interest you (hint: check your bookmarked items from your browser and/or accounts)
  3. Check for and click on the little orange icons and start surfing the internet 2.0!

Tips and Lessons Learned

  • Although RSS and newsreader services are often promoted as potential time savers, they also can be highly addictive. Thus, instead of resulting in less time following your favorite websites and blogs, you often spend the same or more time following more and more (and more!) websites and blogs. As Lee Lefever warns, "Be careful- it's addictive!"
  • Try doing a Google News search for coverage of your organization in the news media. These results can be used to create a dynamic feed (i.e., automatically includes new stories as they are published), which then can be published directly to your organization's website or you can subscribe to this feed using your newsreader software of choice. Using newsreader software such as Google Reader allows you to selectively tag, star and share which items to publish to a new feed produced by your newsreader that can then be republished to your site.

Examples & Stories

Small example of semi-automatized RSS feed of selected Google news into CIMMYT's website: (exotic scripts may have some troubles to show up correctly in Microsoft explorer)
  1. I have created "CIMMYT" search in the Google News and added RSS feed of this search to my Google Reade
  2. In Google reader I am selecting those posts that I want to place in the website by clicking on share [step 2 & 3 are not needed if you don't need to have control over what news appear in the RSS feed].
  3. The shared items can be already seen publicly at but it is not very nice design and I certainly wouldn't get approval to link the institutional website to this page. Google also offers you "Add a clip to your web site or blog". Not bad, but it will again link to the Googl;e webpage of my shared items which I don't want.
  4. So, I have opened account in the NewsGator ( Here I have added the feed from the above Google reader-shared webpage. Feeds can be seen/edited in the: Settings -> My feeds.
  5. And last step: create new location in the Settings -> Edit locations. Once the new location is cretaed, click on Headlines, enable headlines settings, and define how the message in the feed will look like (hwat information will be included, how many posts shall show up, etc.) in the interactive window bellow. Above the "enabling box" is the text that you shall insert into your web page where you would like the headlines to appear (something like <script src=""></script> ... this is just an example!)
and that is all. If you would like to have more feeds from Google News rerouted through your reader into various headline RSS feeds in your website, there is a way how to go around it using selected tag. Contact me for a details if needed ;o). Thanks to Pete Sehlton for tip and guidance!

Who can tell me more?

  • Petr Kosina (p.kosina [at]

Related Methods / Tools / Practices

  • Newsreader software



Photo or image credits

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