RSS Explained: A Really Simple Summary

RSSFor those uninitiated, RSS is generally thought to stand for “Really Simple Syndication,” a name that’s almost as useless as the acronym in explaining what it is. In short, it’s an online technology that allows you to read headlines/articles from news websites, blogs, and other sources all in one place (see example pictured below).

It can be a huge time saver, making it so that you don’t have to browse the Internet to check out the latest content from your top 50 sites (or however many). RSS strips all that information from the original site and consolidates it into one area for you to quickly see content from all over the place.

So instead of typing in the 50 different website addresses into your browser every time you want to see what’s new on any of your favorite sites, you have it all in one place. And what’s better: every time one of the sites updates with new content, you get the new content almost immediately.

You can find sites that support it by looking for the little orange button (pictured above, much larger than usual), though little orange buttons don’t offer much in the way of helping consumers understand what they are. Some sights have a slightly bigger button in the top right but with no description. I remember when it was all the rage to have a “Subscribe to us!” line followed by the orange button at the bottom of every page to make it more obvious.

But unless you’re familiar with how it works, clicking on an RSS icon or link is only the first step. That simply beings the process of putting an RSS feed into your RSS reader. An RSS reader is the application you use to combine/read all the content from the sites you have chosen. The reader can be online (like the free Google Reader, pictured below), a desktop application, or built-in to your Internet browser.

Since instructions for this process are usually not present on most websites, the service hasn’t been catching on. Right now, only a little over 2 percent of online consumers take advantage of RSS. The nondescript, technical name chosen plus the lack of instructions for how to use it are the likely culprits of average consumers ignoring it.

In theory, the latest versions of Internet Explorer and Firefox should make using RSS easier, as the service is now built into both browsers. But still, it’s the type of service you need to see in action before you’re likely to convert. Though once converted, you’re not likely to go back to browsing the Web the traditional way.

RSS Example

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  • Kevin

    Hey Bob,

    How come my blog has 11 unread articles?!!

    Seriously, though, great explanation. I’m hoping that new versions of the big browsers (and the RSS implementation in Apple Mail in Leopard) will start to expose a lot more people to such a great time-saving and really quite addictive technology.

  • Bob Caswell


    Haha, I should have checked that before making the screenshot… If it’s any consolation, you’ve written at least 4x that many posts since I’ve subscribed. You’re pretty high on the list in terms of click ratios. :-)

  • AK

    I use email feeds for specific sites that I know produce great posts.

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  • Kevin

    Bob – I was just joking, of course, but looking at your list again actually makes me feel great – compared to GigaOM and Gizmodo, I seem to be doing quite well! :)

    Isn’t it wonderful that Google Reader now says more than 100+?

  • Bob Caswell

    Yeah, the GigaOMs and Gizmodos aren’t what they used to be (for me, anyway). Too many posts on topics that don’t interest me as much. I read quite a bit of their headlines but more often than not, that’s enough.

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