I am a fan of RSS. I subscribe to a number of feeds and I publish a few. I even know what the acronym stands for. Maybe. Unfortunately, the words behind the letters have changed over the years so that discussing the acronym is more involved than discussing either the concept or its application. If you already know — or don’t care — about RSS, feel free to skip to the sentence in bold. If you want to know even more than I am about to tell, go here or here.
Originally, back in 1999, RSS was an acronym wrapped around an acronym. It stood for RDF Site Summary with RDF being an acronym for Resource Description Framework. It identified a standard format for summarizing… something. Within months, Netscape, where RSS originated, simplified the format and called it Rich Site Summary. In 2002 someone else made more changes to the format and called it Really Simple Syndication. To distinguish it from the earlier RSSs, he added a 2.0. The 2.0 doesn’t always get used but almost all references to RSS mean RSS 2.0 and Really Simple Syndication. Knowing the rest of that stuff is pretty useless except for maybe winning a bet — or getting punched — at the local bar.
Really Simple Syndication is an accurate description. Sure, the internals can seem goofy and arbitrary like most stuff designed by geeks for geeks but the concept, and most people’s relationship with it, really is Really Simple. Publishing consists of putting a properly formatted file somewhere on the internet, telling people it’s there, and changing it as the need arises. Subscribing consists of looking at the file from time to time and reading it when it changes.
There are tons of apps, widgits, and other gizmos dealing with the subscribing end. Some are readers or aggregators through which a user subscribes to specific feeds and knows that is what they are doing. Others are embedded in applications or web pages where the user may not even know that the information they see changing now and then is coming through an RSS feed. The point is that you do not need to understand or even be aware of the underlying rules and conventions to subscribe to and read RSS feeds.
The same is true for many forms of publishing. Website content managers and blog generators often produce RSS feeds automatically. Just click a box or two and maybe set a few options and a feed will be updated automatically when the content is changed or a new blog entry or comment is posted. Not only are people reading RSS feeds without realizing, many are unknowingly publishing them as well.
But what if you want to publish an RSS feed that isn’t just a side effect of something else? You can learn all the rules of XML and RSS and edit the posted file directly or you can use something like FeedForAll.
I use FeedForAll to maintain an RSS feed for my trip journal. It was 2007 and I was seeing RSS as something really attractive as a subscriber. I had been offering email notification of journal updates for quite some time. Thinking that there were others who, like me, were more likely to subscribe to an RSS feed than a newsletter, I started looking around for ways to create and maintain a feed. I know I looked at some other tools but I no longer recall what they were or what I liked/disliked about them. I experimented for a bit with the free version of FeedForAll, decided it did exactly what I needed, and purchased the real version. That is one of the few decisions I’ve ever made that I’ve had no second thoughts about over a half-dozen years.
I thought the product was reasonably priced in 2007 and was surprised to see that the price remains the same, $39.95, in 2013. So I guess it’s even more reasonable now than then. I am not a power user. I maintain a single feed with nothing fancy in it. It’s not a podcast and contains no graphics though FeedForAll supports both. Almost all of my posted items are nothing more than some text and a URL or two. When an item is complete and the “Publish” button clicked, FeedForAll makes the connection and transfers the update. FeedForAll does as-you-type spell checking and validates all data before publishing it.
In practice, the journal’s email list and RSS feed get essentially the same daily posts. The cover page for each trip contains a link and blurb for each day and that blurb is usually quite similar to what goes into the email and RSS. A lot of copying and pasting takes place between these three. The RSS feed is the least work of all.