Secrets of RSS

Steven Holzner

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Copyright © 2006 by Steven Holzner

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Have you noticed those small RSS icons while you're online reading your favorite newspaper or looking at the results of a search? RSS, an acronym for Really Simple Syndication, is essentially a way for Web sites to syndicate new items.

RSS lets you select the source of your information. The idea is that instead of being inundated by email or millions of matches in Google searches, you can select the RSS feeds you want to read, filter them, and get only the information you want. You find an RSS feed, subscribe to it, and read the feed using an RSS reader installed on your computer.

The popularity of RSS has exploded since it first arrived on the scene, and today there are millions of RSS feeds. Just about any kind of information is available in an RSS feedlocal news, political activism, pet news, international news, blogs, and more.

To use RSS, find an item you're interested in reading that has an RSS button or an XML button (as you'll learn in Chapter 1, "Gotta Get My RSS"), and click the button to connect the RSS feed to the RSS reader on your computer. When you do that, you are subscribing to that RSS feed.

After you subscribe to the feed you want, the new items will be sent to your RSS reader. Those new items are displayed as headlines in your RSS reader. All you have to do is scan the titles, double-click a headline, and the RSS reader downloads and displays the full text of the article. When your RSS reader is active, it automatically downloads new items.

RSS is the next step in the information revolution, and this book is your guided tour of all aspects of RSS.

Who Should Read This Book?

There are two types of individuals involved with RSSreaders and publishersand this book is designed for both.

For those who are interested in learning about RSS and reading RSS feeds, I'll describe many of the RSS readers available today, and how to use them. You'll learn not only how to subscribe to RSS feeds using RSS readers, but also how to work with those feeds inside RSS readers. You'll learn how to download new RSS items, how to view lists of new items' titles, how to read the text of items that interest you, how to access the item online for more information, and more. You'll see how to locate RSS feeds on the Internetnot only by using those RSS and XML buttons, but also by searching huge directories of RSS feeds for the ones that interest you.

If you want to be an RSS publisher, this book is for you as well. I'll guide you through the seemingly endless options for getting your information out to a large number of eagerly waiting readers. I'll show you how to create your own RSS feeds both from scratch and by using RSS feed creation tools (some free, some not). You'll see how to publish your feed online, as well as how to publicize your feed and get listed in the RSS directories. In no time, you'll end up with readers from all over, and getting the word out is going to prove easier than you imagined.

What's in This Book?

This book covers the history of RSS and RSS feeds today, both for people who want to read RSS feeds, and for those who want to publish and publicize feeds. Here are the topics we'll explore:

  • Subscribing to RSS feeds

  • Grabbing RSS with readers

  • Creating RSS feeds

  • Creating feeds from scratch

  • Blogging and RSS

  • Automating creation of RSS feeds

  • Podcasting: adding multimedia to your feeds

  • Spreading the word about your RSS feed

  • Converting RSS feeds to Web sites

  • RSS best practices

RSS is fantastic for dealing with the information glut by getting just the news you want, and you're going to get the full scoop hereincluding the secrets behind successful RSS.

What Will You Need?

This book is designed to give you all the information you need to handle RSS, from finding and reading feeds, all the way to creating your own feeds and even merging feeds and creating Web pages from them.

This book is self-contained. A working knowledge of HTML and XML would be helpful, although not necessary; I provide a XML primer.

You will need a computer with an Internet connection to follow along, and if you want to upload and publish your own RSS feeds, you'll need a way of hosting files on the Internet. Nothing special is required, just an ISP. In general, if you can host Web pages, you can host the XML-based documents that make up RSS feeds.

To publish an RSS feed, all you really need is a way to upload files, just as you upload Web pages. You can use an FTP program, available from some ISPs.

If you only want to read RSS feeds, you will need to be able to download filesin particular, RSS feeds themselves, as well as the many free software packages that let you read and handle those RSS feeds.

Later in the book, I describe how you can automatically read and convert RSS feeds into HTML and display them on your Web pages (Chapter 9, "Converting RSS Feeds to a Web Site").

And that's itwe're ready to start the grand tour of RSS. For an overview of the RSS world today, and what you'll find in it, turn to Chapter 1.