Introduction to RSS

By Andy King

Want more traffic? An easy way to distribute your news? Then you need an RSS news feed. To start all you need is content you want broadcast, and one RSS text file.

What is RSS?

Really Simple Syndication (RSS) is a lightweight XML format designed for sharing headlines and other Web content. Think of it as a distributable "What's New" for your site. Originated by UserLand in 1997 and subsequently used by Netscape to fill channels for Netcenter, RSS has evolved into a popular means of sharing content between sites (including the BBC, CNET, CNN, Disney, Forbes, Motley Fool, Wired, Red Herring, Salon, Slashdot, ZDNet, and more). RSS solves myriad problems webmasters commonly face, such as increasing traffic, and gathering and distributing news. RSS can also be the basis for additional content distribution services.

RSS Syntax

RSS defines an XML grammar (a set of HTML-like tags) for sharing news. Each RSS text file contains both static information about your site, plus dynamic information about your new stories, all surrounded by matching start and end tags.

Each story is defined by an <item> tag, which contains a headline TITLE, URL, and DESCRIPTION. Here's an example:

...
<item>
  <title>RSS Resources</title>
  <link>http://www.webreference.com/authoring/languages/xml/rss/</link>
  <description>Defined in XML, the Rich Site Summary (RSS) format has
  quietly become a dominant format for distributing headlines on the Web.
  Our list of links gives you the tools, tips and tutorials you need to get
  started using RSS. 0323</description>
</item>
...

Each RSS channel can contain up to 15 items and is easily parsed using Perl or other open source software. If you want more details on creating RSS files see Jonathan Eisenzopf's excellent article in the February issue of Web Techniques. But you don't have to worry about the details, we've made it easy to create your own RSS channel with free open source scripts, all Web based. More on these later.

Once you've created and validated your RSS text file, register it at the various aggregators, and watch the hits roll in. Any site can now grab and display your feed regularly, driving traffic your way. Update your RSS file, and all the external sites that subscribe to your feed will be automatically updated. What can be easier? But wait, there's more.




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