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Depending on who you ask, RSS stands for "Really Simple Syndication." RSS is a new way to publish information online.
At the heart of the technology is special Web coding, called XML, that has been widely developed by the global online community over the past few years.
The XML code for RSS describes a new type of Web information called a "news feed." Essentially, the feeds can contain a summary and links of the new content on a Web site or anything else a creator desires to share.
Anyone can pick up the RSS codes and with the appropriate Web software display the information automatically.
The concept is similar to how a newswire service operates: Information published by one news organization can be "syndicated" — picked up and displayed — by any other organization.
Through syndication, online content creators have a much easier way to get their information published and seen. For instance, a Web surfer who sees an RSS feed — say a ticker of top news stories — on one site might click on the content, which in turn drives more traffic back to the original Web site.
RSS can also be a way for Web sites to retain "loyalty" among visitors. By supplying the RSS code on the Web site, visitors can "subscribe" to the feed and automatically receive updates on their personal computers of new content on the site.
Such an RSS feed will free content creators from creating and sending e-mail reminders — many of which may be stopped by anti-spam filters.
For Web surfers, the advantages of RSS are quite simple: They save time and bandwidth.
Instead of remembering to visit a favorite Web site, the news comes directly into your computer daily or at whatever interval you want.
What's more, most RSS feeds contain just links, headlines, or brief synopsis of new information only. That means the small amount of Web data can be sent to any XML-compatible device — a cell phone, pager, or handheld computer — without a lengthy download process.
More importantly, RSS gives you control over receiving information you want without revealing information about yourself. Unlike subscribing to an e-mail newsletter, you never have to give out your e-mail address with an RSS feed. That avoids the possibility of receiving spam or unwanted junk e-mail from the Web site.
First, you need a feed reader. Performing a search for "RSS Feed Readers" in any major online search engine such as Google or Yahoo! will produce a bundle of software options — many of which are free or at little cost.
Once you've obtained a feed reader, subscribing to an RSS feed is as simple as looking for the appropriate feed link. Most Web sites that publish an RSS feed will display a tiny orange box or button labeled "RSS" or "XML."
Click the feed link you are interested in and your Web browser typically goes to a page of cryptic XML code. No worries, just copy the Web "address" or URL of that page and plug it into your feed reader. The software will then automatically retrieve and display that site's latest information.