Ever heard of RSS? It’s a Web standard, no company behind. The abbreviation stands for Rich Site Summary, or Really Simple Syndication, or RDF Site Summary. RDF in turn stands for Resource Description Framework. If this isn’t enough, RSS is similar to ATOM, which applies to a pair of related Web standards. The Atom Syndication Format is a XML language used for web feeds, while the Atom Publishing Protocol (AtomPub or APP) is a simple HTTP-based protocol for creating and updating web resources. HTTP in turn is … I’ll stop here, hopefully you are still reading 🙂
Let’s try again the pragmatic way: What is RSS and why is there nothing better?
What is RSS?
Usually, content needs to be spread to it’s audience. Last month, when we started the blog with our famous Hello World post, we shared it on our Twitter account, on our LinkedIn Page, on our XING Page, and on Instagram. So what we basically did is a kind of marketing with the aim to reach you. 15 years ago, neither Twitter nor Instagram existed. Twitter was founded in 2006, Instagram in 2010. Both, LinkedIn and XING were founded in 2003, but at that time they played no role in marketing. When you visit these sites it’s possible to see our Hello World post, but it looks different on each page and it also took us time to create these posts.
All these platforms are a type of social networks with different business models behind. The situation for us in this case is like being an artist with plenty of fresh paintings to sell in an exhibition: we are going to the baker and several other shops near the exhibition space to ask the owners if they would lay out our invitation to the Vernissage. This situation is totally fine, but we have to “push” the data to these platforms.
- Wouldn’t it be nice if we could connect to the bakers “screen” or “black board”, that would display our latest invitations in the future automatically (after the shop owner gave the permission)?
- And wouldn’t it be nice too, if the content would be automatically updated if something has changed in our content?
Yeah, let’s build something to introduce a “pull” based system.
The basic idea of RSS in the 90ties was to offer updates to online content in a standardized, computer-readable format. The content creator “offers” it, the consumer “pulls” it.
The RSS standard exists since the early beginning of the web more than 20 years ago. Our blog, for example, offers a so called RSS feed with the URL https://lupusconsulting.com/feed.
Technically it looks like like this:
<rss version="2.0"> <channel> <title>Lupus Consulting</title> <link>https://lupusconsulting.com</link> <item> <title>Hello World!</title> <link>https://lupusconsulting.com/2018/05/15/hello-world/</link> <pubDate>Tue, 15 May 2018 07:00:00 +0000</pubDate> <content:encoded><![CDATA[<p>You know what? We finally decided to start a company blog! What you are reading is the very first blog entry and you might ask, why a company like Lupus Consulting would start a blog?</p> ... ]]></content:encoded> </item> </channel> </rss>
You might consider it as strange, but for a machine the code is well structured and easy to read. For a human being like you and me it is also possible to read it, but … well … we don’t want to read it in this way.
When you access our RSS feed URL with a browser, the result displayed to you depends on your browser (in this case the browser is your RSS client). When you use the Firefox browser you’ll see something like this:
If you decide to subscribe to the feed, this browser offers the possibility to show the headlines in a easy accessible way in the bookmark toolbar.
Firefox uses its toolbar to become your Newsfeed! Nothing filtered, nothing pushed to you, no payed posts, no algorithms involved, just the fresh content you want to see. That sounds really cool! And you know what … it’s free of charge.
The Washington Post offers RSS feeds (e.g. http://feeds.washingtonpost.com/rss/politics), SAP offers RSS feeds (e.g. https://blogs.sap.com/feed/), Ikea offers RSS feeds (e.g. https://newsroom.inter.ikea.com/rss/news/all), just to mention a few.
Every one who wants to be read offers a RSS feed!
Why is it so good?
It depends from which side you are looking on an RSS feed. If you know what you are interested in, you will get pure data from RSS feeds. No algorithm is choosing what you are allowed to see or what is presented to you for various reasons. You get what you want.
If you consider this as an advantage or a disadvantage, it’s up to you :). The “it’s up to you” term is quiet common in discussions about the Internet of Things and other scenarios where machines are communicating with other machines and human beings. The exchange of pure data is simply necessary to be able to communicate in a structured way. It’s not possible to tell Alexa, Siri, Cortana or other personal assistants to have a look at the XING website. Well, may be it’s possible to tell them they should have a look but they need structured data on the sites to answer properly.
If you don’t want to expose your data in the public, just secure your data with a token and/or user and password credentials and your are “safe”.
The RSS Client
In the last example, I used the Firefox browser as a RSS client. You may think: “Hey, I’m using [browser xyz] and it doesn’t work like this” and you’re right, that’s odd. So let’s talk about RSS Clients. Plenty of apps for your mobile phone, your tablet and your desktop are able to read your feeds.
There are also some kind of “hard core” open source projects. They consist of a central “news server” like TinyRSS and connected clients apps like TinyRSSReader.
A central news server can also be used as a “Planet”. The idea behind is the collection of feeds from different sources and present them on a central place. Planets are often used in decentralised, relatively open environments. Have a look at Planet WordPress or Planet Drupal. The charming idea of a “Planet” is, that every participant is writing on his own system and the planet bundles everything automatically based on RSS feeds.
Do you know Flipboard? Founded in 2010, the Flipboard service offers curated feeds for different target groups in different countries and it’s very comfortable to read on your tablet.
Not so many people are aware of that this content is based on RSS feeds and similar structures.
If you are already using Flipboard, grab your phone or tablet and open up the app. Click on the search icon and, in the search field, type in the URL exactly as it is: https://lupusconsulting.com/feed. Swipe over to the “Social” tab and you’ll see your RSS feed listed.
Click on it, and then click the check-mark at the top of the screen. Here we are 🙂
Even if this blog is for sure not the most important source of news in your life, especially when it comes to relaxation on your sofa reading news via your tablet. The point is that reading news via a RSS client is easy accessible and free of charge. It’s totally up to you what, where and how you are reading your news and, as a bonus, depending on the RSS client, no one knows what you are reading!
It’s up to you 🙂