So what does RSS stand for? It depends on who you talk to but there are several interpretations. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, or Rich Site Summary, or RDF Site Summary. Confused? Me too!
This whole WordPress RSS thing has been eating at me so I figured I’d look into it an get it figured out. As it turns out, it’s a pretty simple concept and a pretty useful aspect of the online world. Many sites feature the widely accepted icon you see within the outline of this article. The icon was reportedly first used by Mozilla’s Firefox browser and is now used across the web and in numerous browsers. I personally use the Firefox browser and within the address window (at the far right) this icon will appear if there is an RSS feed available for the particular site I am viewing.
What is a feed? A feed can be just about anything and there are ways to specify what leaves a site as a feed and what does not. Generally in WordPress, posts and pages will be included in a feed which is subscribed to much like your morning paper, or the digital version of your morning paper. Back in the day, we had to get people to subscribe to an email list and then send them a newsletter every so often to let them know of current articles of interest and other “goings-on”.
In order to translate the code of the RSS feed, you need a reader. There are a lot of readers out there and in my own case, I used my Google account to sign up for Google Reader which is free to use. Many personalized home pages such as iGoogle and MyYahoo offer the ability to display the RSS feeds that a user is subscribed to. This may not sound like much of a big deal but think of the time it could save by consolidating “news” from sites (like blogs) that are subscribed to. Instead of having to visit each of those sites to determine if there was any new posts or other important or updated content, the RSS feed automatically delivers it!
There are a number of different RSS versions such as 0.9, 1.0, 2.0, RDF, and another format called Atom. It has to do with different groups across the internet and the standards they seek to enforce. Personally it reminds me of the early days of video when VHS was a widely used standard but Sony insisted on it’s own format called Betamax. It resulted in some folks buying VHS machines and some buying Beta machines and no interchangeability between the two. I guess you could relate it to the age-old battle of Apple vs. PC.
When you subscribe to an RSS feed you might have to choose which format you want your reader to accept. Luckily, most readers are able to interpret multiple formats of RSS automatically so you don’t have to get your hands dirty.
The great thing about RSS feeds for blog owners is the capability to get your updated information into the hands (or in front of the eyeballs) of people who have subscribed to your feeds. Encouraging your readers to subscribe to your feed should take a prominent place on your home page. There are plugins that allow you to place your WordPress RSS feed button, often along with other web 2.0 subscriptions like Twitter, Facebook and more right in your sidebar or in your header or navigation bar.
There you have it. if I’ve forgotten anything important, please feel free to correct or add to the info above. I want to encourage you to subscribe to my feed as well as joining my mailing list. I’ve got a great SEO resource to give you just for signing up and I promise not to over mail or spam you or otherwise lead you astray.