Really Simple Syndication (RSS)

Really Simple Syndication: Really Simple Syndication, Really Simple Subscribing, Rich Site Summary, RSS, feed, web feed ( ) or channel or by whatever name we call it, it is a family of Web feed formats that publish the contents from the frequently updated websites, blog, podcasts, etc. It is the XML-based format that allows the syndication of Web content and used to refer to the standards like Rich Site Summary (RSS 0.91), RDF Site Summary (RSS 0.9 and 1.0), Really Simple Syndication (RSS 2.0) and Really Simple Subscribing. RSS formats are specified using XML, a generic specification for the creation of data formats. Although RSS formats have evolved since March 1999 (My Netscape Network), the RSS icon first gained widespread use in 2005/2006.

1. History: In 1995, Ramanathan V. Guha and others in Apple Computer's Advanced Technology Group developed the Meta Content Framework (MCF) which forms the basic idea of restructuring information about web sites. RDF Site Summary, the first version of RSS, was created by Guha at Netscape in March 1999 for use on the My.Netscape.Com portal. This version became known as RSS 0.9. (My Netscape Network). In July 1999, Dan Libby of Netscape produced a new version, RSS 0.91 that simplified the format by removing RDF elements and incorporating elements from Dave Winer's scriptingNews syndication format. Libby also renamed RSS to Rich Site Summary and outlined further development of the format in a “futures document”.

Winer published a modified version of the RSS 0.91 specification on the UserLand web site, covering how it was being used in his company’s products, and claimed copyright to the document. The RSS-DEV Working Group, a project whose members included Guha and representatives of O’Reilly Media and Moreover, produced RSS 1.0 in December 2000. This new version, which reclaimed the name RDF Site Summary from RSS 0.9, reintroduced support for RDF and added XML namespaces support, adopting elements from standard metadata vocabularies such as Dublin Core. In December 2000, Winer released RSS 0.92 a minor set of changes aside from the introduction of the enclosure element, which permitted audio files to be carried in RSS feeds and helped spark podcasting. In September 2002, Winer released a major new version of the format, RSS 2.0, which redubbed its initials Really Simple Syndication. RSS 2.0 removed the type attribute added in the RSS 0.94 draft and added support for namespaces.

As neither Winer nor the RSS-DEV Working Group had Netscape’s involvement, they could not make an official claim on the RSS name or format. This has fueled ongoing controversy in the syndication development community as to which entity was the proper publisher of RSS. One product of that contentious debate was the creation of an alternative syndication format, Atom, that began in June 2003. The Atom syndication format, whose creation was in part motivated by a desire to get a clean start free of the issues surrounding RSS, has been adopted as IETF Proposed Standard RFC 4287.

In July 2003, Winer and UserLand Software assigned the copyright of the RSS 2.0 specification to Harvard’s Berkman Center for the Internet & Society, where he had just begun a term as a visiting fellow. In December 2005, the Microsoft Internet Explorer team and Outlook team announced on their blogs that they were adopting the feed icon first used in the Mozilla Firefox browser. A few months later, Opera Software followed suit. This effectively made the orange square with white radio waves the industry standard for RSS and Atom feeds, replacing the large variety of icons and text that had been used previously to identify syndication data. In January 2006, Rogers Cadenhead re-launched the RSS Advisory Board without Dave Winer’s participation, with a stated desire to continue the development of the RSS format and resolve ambiguities. In June 2007, the board revised their version of the specification to confirm that namespaces may extend core elements with namespace attributes, as Microsoft has done in Internet Explorer 7. In their view, a difference of interpretation left publishers unsure of whether this was permitted or forbidden.

2. Need of RSS: In the days of the development of internet, users were maintaining bookmark or favorite (Bookmark in Mozilla Firefox or Favorite in Internet Explorer) folder for the site that they considered important to revisit after some interval of time to check its updating information. In this case, users were left with no choice but to check the websites frequently or sometime daily by actually visiting them in the browser irrespective of whether it is actually updated or not. But due to the time constraint it is not possible to revisit each site of the bookmark or favorite folder regularly, as each user have many favorite sites.

The development of newsletters or e-zine in the next step solves a general quest of the problem. It helps the user to subscribe to the e-zine or newsletters of a particular site that in turn contains a summary of all the latest updates made on the website. But it demands the disclosure of email address to the website owners for subscribing, which can be easily used by spammers to flood one’s mailbox with lots of junk mails. Subscribing to many newsletters at a time will also itself flood one’s mail box and demand a considerable time to find out one’s valuable email out of the whole. The task of reading every email, deleting it or shifting it to another folder will be also a time consuming process in itself.

In the RSS environment, whenever a website is updated by means of producing an article / news item, it simultaneously produces a document that contains in it the summary of all the updates made on the website. This document is in the form of an XML document. This XML document that contains the summary of all updates is known as a “Feed” or “Atom” and it usually has an “.xml” extension.

Blog that are hosted over Wordpress, Blogger, etc have an inbuilt feature of creating an RSS feed automatically. So, every time when a blog is updated they create a RSS feed. So, the blogger that hosted their blog does not require to create an RSS feed separately for their blog.

3. Versions: There are several different versions of RSS, falling into two major branches, 1.* and 2.*.

a) RSS 1.*: The RDF, or RSS 1.* branch includes the following versions:

i) RSS 0.90: It was the original Netscape RSS version. This RSS was called RDF Site Summary, but was based on an early working draft of the RDF standard, and was not compatible with the final RDF Recommendation.

ii) RSS 1.0: It is an open format by the RSS-DEV Working Group, again standing for RDF Site Summary. RSS 1.0 is an RDF format like RSS 0.90, but not fully compatible with it, since 1.0 is based on the final RDF 1.0 Recommendation.

iii) RSS 1.1: It is also an open format and is intended to update and replace RSS 1.0. The specification is an independent draft not supported or endorsed in any way by the RSS-Dev Working Group or any other organization.

b) The RSS 2.*: This branch (initially UserLand, now Harvard) includes the following versions:

i) RSS 0.91: It is the simplified RSS version released by Netscape, and also the version number of the simplified version championed by Dave Winer from Userland Software. The Netscape version was now called Rich Site Summary; this was no longer an RDF format, but was relatively easy to use. It remains the most common RSS variant.

ii) RSS 0.92 through 0.94: They are expansions of the RSS 0.91 format, which are mostly compatible with each other and with Winer’s version of RSS 0.91, but are not compatible with RSS 0.90. In all Userland RSS 0.9x specifications, RSS was no longer an acronym.

iii) RSS 2.0.1: It has the internal version number 2.0. RSS 2.0.1 was proclaimed to be “frozen”, but still updated shortly after release without changing the version number. RSS now stood for Really Simple Syndication. The major change in this version is an explicit extension mechanism using XML Namespaces.

For the most part, later versions in each branch are backward-compatible with earlier versions (aside from non-conformant RDF syntax in 0.90), and both versions include properly documented extension mechanisms using XML Namespaces, either directly (in the 2.* branch) or through RDF (in the 1.* branch). Most syndication software supports both branches.

4. RSS Readers: The XML document can not be accessed by eyes, or if it is, it is very difficult. So, there is a need of software that makes it readable to our eyes. The software that makes the XML document readable to human eye is known as RSS Readers, feed reader or aggregator. So, an RSS Reader is specialized software which interprets the RSS feed (written in XML language) and present it in a readable form to end user. Using an RSS Reader to view the XML document just looks like checking the mail box.

a) Types of RSS Reader: There are mainly two types of RSS reader- Online RSS reader and Offline RSS reader. Google Reader, Yahoo, Bloglines provides online RSS reader. Google Reader is free, fast and reliable. It needs not to be download just to do is to create a free account at Google Reader. Alnera Feed Buster is a commercial offline RSS Reader which cost about $19.95.

b) Subscribing to an RSS feed: If one wants to subscribe to the RSS feed of a blog, then he/she needs to look for the “Atom” or “RSS” feed icon. After clicking on the RSS feed icon it will show the feed address (usually right-click on an RSS icon and open it in a new browser window will show the address). The user then need to copy and paste the address of the RSS feed of the website in the RSS Reader. Now whenever, the user checks its RSS feed in the RSS reader, it will show the updates that where made in the website of one’s choice.

Initially, reading various websites through their RSS feed in an RSS reader may appear a little odd to anyone. However, as one will accustom with this activity he/she will find it as the fastest and the easiest method to keep abreast with the latest updates of his/her favorite websites / blogs.

5. Advantages: RSS is creating an earthquake in the online communication environment. It helps one to filter among the world of blog, to push the latest updating of his/her favorite blog to the RSS Reader at his own desktop that meet his/her personal, professional, or business needs. Even an RSS aggregator has many blogs aggregated. Some other benefits are

i) Time Saving: One doesn’t have to save the file in his/her browser’s favorite folder and visit it regularly to check for its new updates. Checking the RSS reader will save a considerable time from the busy schedule of heavy net surfer by directly brining the content to his own desktop.

ii) Summary or Full Contents: RSS contains either a summary of content from an associated web site or the full text.

iii) Current Awareness Service (CAS): It will keep abreast with the latest posting to a favorite website without visiting it.

iv) Filtered Display: RSS makes it possible for people to keep up with web sites in an automated manner that can be piped into special programs or filtered displays.

v)  Privacy: In the RSS environment, one doesn’t have to disclose his/her email address to others.

Currently a majority of websites / blogs are coming up with their RSS feeds. If a website is not publishing its RSS feed, it is considered as its drawback.