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What Is RSS?

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There has been a fair amount of discussion recently about RSS, a standard for distributing content without having to worry about whether that content will be filtered out of users' email boxes.

Introduction

Depending on which version you're looking at, RSS can stand for Rich Site Summary, RDF Site Summaries, or Really Simple Syndication. It's an XML language that—used in combination with specialized software packages called RSS aggregators or news aggregators—allows a user to subscribe to a web site or section of a web site and receive quick summaries when that site is updated.

To fully understand the impact that RSS will have in the future, we must look to the past. In 1997, companies such as PointCast and Marimba introduced new software clients that allowed for content to be "pushed" to customers. Using those specialized tools, customers could receive information from several news sources. This approach showed companies such as Microsoft and Netscape that there might be some value in providing content to users. Microsoft introduced Channel Definition Format (CDF) with Internet Explorer 4.0, while Netscape started working on RSS .90 (Rich Site Summary) as a way to receive data for its My Netscape portal.

The "push" bubble eventually deflated with the fortunes of PointCast, and CDF petered out. RSS would have suffered the same fate were it not for the efforts of Dave Winer, founder of UserLand and one of the earliest adopters of the format. At the time, UserLand was working on a new tool called Radio UserLand, which would aggregate RSS and allow readers to create "weblogs" by commenting on some of the stories they received via RSS feed. Netscape agreed to add some of the features that UserLand requested in a new iteration of RSS, known as RSS 0.91.

The RSS world stayed relatively quiet until August 2000, when a group of developers decided that it needed to be extended. At that point, controversy exploded over what direction RSS should take.

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