RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, though it is sometimes referred to as Rich Site Summary, but they both stand for the same thing and that’s its standard icon at the left. If you believe that Really Simple really means just that, then the only other part needing explanation is the Syndication.
Ya’ know how comic strips or columnists are sometimes syndicated, meaning the strip or column is distributed for publication to all of the newspapers or publications that are part of the syndicate. Well, the same process works on the Internet. When you find a web site that you like to visit, you can subscribe – for free – to it’s RSS feed. In other words, you can become part of its syndicate, and each time there is a new item published, you will be notified.
You can also think of this as a reverse bookmark. When you subscribe to a site’s RSS feed, it’s as if the site has bookmarked you and each time there is a change to the site, you get notified. Of course, if the site does not have an RSS feed then you cannot subscribe to it. In that case, you can do what you probably already do, which is visit the site at your convenience.
Once you subscribe to a site, how – exactly – do you get notified that there has been an update to the site? The RSS feed is pre-scripted to talk to an RSS Reader, also known as an RSS Aggregator. The RSS Reader gathers all of your subscriptions in one location. If you only visit one site, an RSS feed may not seem all that useful, but if you are tracking multiple sites then all you have to do is check your RSS Reader rather than visit each web site. And that’s the Really Simple part – having the computer do the work for you and make it Really Simple to keep tabs on the news, blogs, wikis, podcasts and other sources you use. My reader of choice is Google Reader.
Two useful articles about RSS are Will Richardson’s pdf, RSS: A Quick Start Guide for Educators, and the Infinite Thinking Machine April 5, 2007 blog entry by Mark Wagner, It Really Is Really Simple: RSS for Educators.
Having just added the Feeds portion at the bottom of my sidebar, it seemed a good topic for a post, especially because, to paraphrase a saying:
The best way to see if you understand a topic is to write about it!