What is RSS? How do I use it?

Ok, I"ll admit it. I don’t have any idea what RSS is or why I should use it.

You “subscribe” to a website that has RSS feeds, and you get a capsule summary of the current website. Most useful for news sites. Here’s the first three headlines from cnet’s site:

Yahoo board re-election results in - board does better than last year
Today, 2:24 PM
Despite the hoopla around the Yahoo shareholders meeting, the company directors were re-elected by a higher percentage than last year, according to results released by the company. Read more…

Yahoo shareholders leave meeting disgruntled
Today, 2:18 PM
Executives at the Internet pioneer are probably breathing easier now that the shareholder meeting is over. But several shareholders weren’t happy how it went. Read more…

Yahoo, shareholders convene–at last
Today, 2:18 PM
At the annual shareholders meeting, Yahoo honchos continue to voice optimism about the company’s future. Some investors had hoped for more action. Read more…

Do the notices come in by email?

Interestingly, Apple’s latest version of Mail does subscribe to RSS feeds. Usually, your Internet browser will be the tool you use to read RSS. I’m not sure which browsers support RSS. On the Mac, Safari and Firefox do. I’m sure most current versions on Windows do also.

Outlook 2007 will retrieve RSS feeds.

MSIE, Opera, and Firefox all allow you to subscribe to RSS feeds.

There are also standalone programs like Feedreader, but Web Browsers are probably the most common way to subscribe. Usually, you can just click on the RSS symbol in the address bar and subscribe.

No, that isn’t how the system is used most of the time. Most of the time, someone subscribes to a feed in their browser by clicking an orange icon (which looks like this), which causes their browser to bookmark that feed. The bookmark is different in that it will automatically update: The browser grabs a small file from that website at periodic intervals that contains a summary of what’s new on that website. This is a very easy way to stay up-to-date on what’s new on Google News, for example.

Wikipedia has a good article.

I use a separate RSS reader, called Feedreader, which I find to be a more pleasing system than the way a browser does it.

So people will always recognize RSS as Motorola Radio Service Software, even though they’ve switched to spiffy new Windows-based CPS.