Good for Readers
So you can see that by using an RSS reader program, you can corral the information you want in one place, and read it much more easily. RSS readers typically check subscribed feeds approximately once an hour, so when an RSS feed is updated, your RSS reader notifies you. All you have to do is to let the highly filtered information come in.
RSS feeds are also called channels, like in broadcasting. So when you subscribe to an RSS feed, you're subscribing to a channel. And in the same way that you can select what channel to watch on television, you can select what channel to read using your RSS reader software.
You can republish RSS feeds if you want, as described in Chapter 9, "Converting RSS Feeds to Web Sites." Got a special topic you're very interested in? Health care? Industry statistics? Movie reviews? Hamsters? You can merge a number of feeds and automatically create your own Web page. Your Web page can display the items, and because your page is viewable in a browser, you can republish the feeds and make them available to anyone who browses your site. (Of course, you'll have to get permission first.)
Good for Publishers
If you're interested in publishing your own information, RSS is good for you too. Want to get the word out on your favorite topics? That series of French language classes you're thinking of starting, your grassroots campaign to set aside space for a farmer's market, updates for the software you write, or just tips on pet careanything is fair game when it comes to RSS.
The word simple in Really Simple Syndication was aptly chosenRSS really is simple. To create your own RSS feeds, all you need is a Web site where you can store your feeds. You can create an RSS feed using an easy program (see Chapter 3, "Creating RSS Feeds"), or you can create a feed from scratch (see Chapter 4, "Creating RSS Feeds from Scratch"). Some RSS editors even upload your feed to your Web site for you; it's all automaticjust fill out the form fields with the title and text you want to add to your feed and click a button. The program takes it from there.
Now that more and more people are interested in RSS, getting folks to read your feed has become easier too. Check out Chapter 8, "Publicizing Your Feeds," which covers ways you can popularize your feed.
RSS is also a good alternative for people who want to spread the word about their product or line of products without inadvertently resorting to spam. Because people must subscribe to your RSS feed to read it, you don't have to worry that you might be pushing email on anyone. Besides, laws are finally being enacted to crack down on spam email.
Another benefit of RSS, from the publisher's point of view, is that you can have each RSS item include a link back to your site. That's great, because you bring more traffic to your site and you have a chance to involve your subscribers more fully in your interests.
RSS and Blogging
RSS also has a special relationship with Web logsblogs, that is. Blogs are those online journals that have become very popular recently, and usually include commentary on just about anything.
Most blogging sites now automatically convert blog entries into RSS items. That means you don't have to go to a blog's site to check for new entriesyou can have those new entries sent directly to your RSS reader.
To learn more about creating blogs and converting them into RSS feeds, see Chapter 5, "Blogging with RSS."
How do you subscribe to a blog as an RSS feed? As at most blog sites, you'll find a link or a button connected to the blog's RSS feed. For example, the "Subscribe to this blog's feed" link on the left links to the blog's automatically created RSS feed (Figure 1.5). You use the URL pointed to by that link to subscribe to the feed in your RSS reader.
Figure 1.5. A blog site at typepad.com provides a link to the blog's RSS feed.
Blogging and RSS are a natural combination: If the blog author adds entries to his blog from time to time, why wouldn't he convert those entries into RSS feed items? That way, the blog entries can come to you. What could be more convenient?