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What Is RSS?

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RSS Grows Up

Although it was originally slated to distribute updates about different content web sites, recent uses of RSS have turned it into a much more advanced format. For example, Feedster offers a search engine for RSS feeds, allowing the user to search through RSS data in a fashion much like searching Google for web pages and other documents.

RSS has also appeared as a new way to distribute other types of data, such as the following:

  • Mailing lists. Yahoo! Groups supports the format for all its mailing lists. This example shows an RSS feed for the rss-dev mailing lists.

  • Google News searches. Gnews2RSS allows the user to create an RSS feed for a particular keyword or key phrase.

  • Monitoring Google search results. Google Alert enables you to monitor the Google index for changes in pages based on a certain keyword or key phrase.

Increasingly, RSS is becoming the basic glue for tracking changes around the Internet. The indexes of services such as Weblogs.com, Daypop, Popdex, and Blogdex use underlying RSS feeds to assess pages that RSS creators consider to be important currently. These tools represent a new form of collaborative editing as stories seen important by weblog creators and other RSS distributors rise and fall on a daily basis.

Based on this data, services such as Technorati allow users to enter a URL and see who has linked to that URL. The advantage of using RSS as the source for this type of data is that it provides much more granular information in terms of context for the links. For example, you can get an idea as to the importance of one type of link versus another. If mined properly, this is a rich trove of data for anyone trying to push an idea or new product over the Internet.

With the support of companies such as the New York Times, Business Week, Microsoft, IBM, and the BBC, RSS is slated to go through a new period of growth in 2004. You should familiarize yourself with the format and investigate how you could use it in your company during the first quarter of 2004. Companies that don't have an RSS strategy in place by the end of 2004 might be behind the curve; their competitors will probably have already implemented some level of RSS support in their web sites.

In a later article, we'll investigate RSS implementation issues, providing details as to how the formats differ and what you need to consider to simplify implementation.

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