RSS and Atom are ways to distribute your information into the digital world. They are a file format (rather than software program) and are something like a simple word processing document.
You’ve probably noticed the little orange logo which sprung up all over the Internet without much fanfare. You’ve probably never clicked on it, either. (RSS and Atom are almost the same thing and I will just call them both RSS.)
But don’t be fooled – this little tool works very well and can greatly simplify your professional communication.
The beauty of RSS is its simplicity – it is basically a list of your documents, ready to be used by RSS readers, web browsers, embedded in web sites, read on phone apps, etc.
Just a little technical background:
RSS is commonly called “Real Simple Syndication” and is yet another use of XML which has become the standard for most of the documents you use these days. (including what you are reading right now.) Atom is so similar to RSS that it usually makes no difference to the user.
You can think of XML as the core content of a document to which specific styles are added later. Because it’s the information without all the fonts, margins, colors, etc. An XML file can be used on a wide variety of readers – from your big screen TV all the way down to your phone.
Using XML, RSS takes your blog, podcasts, news releases, text messages, or similar and collects them into a simple list that can be used lots of different ways.
This solves the problem of everybody having a different kind of device. RSS allows you to write in one place while allowing your audience to read it on the device of their choice.
RSS files can be inserted into many web sites and applications.
You need two tools to use RSS: one to create the RSS fed and another to read it. There are almost endless choices for both. Many programs automatically create RSS feeds including WordPress, the software this blog uses.
I’ll review the two that I use most.
Blogger.com – easy way to create an RSS feed
Blogger is a Google blogging site which automatically generates an Atom feed from your blog entry. Conveniently, Blogger lets you create blog entries from the web, email, your phone and dedicated programs like Windows Live Writer.
My school district makes it hassle to update the library web site, so I inserted an RSS feed on the main pages and now I can update the library web site from Blogger.com. It is so much easier for me now!
Feedwind – add an RSS feed to your web site
Feedwind allows you to make a RSS “widget” to insert into you web page or blog. You can customize the size and colors to match your blog. You only need to be comfortable with pasting HTML code into your blog or web site.
Here is an RSS feed of this blog:
The above feed will update even as this page stays the same.
This is only the tip of the iceberg for what you can do with with this under-appreciated technology.
Tool: RSS and Atom
Description: a strategy for distributing information
License: effectively open source
Alternative: email, social networking
Rating: very useful