RSS (Really Simple Syndication)

Salvador Aragón. Professor. Instituto de Empresa

21 March 2006

Recently, RSS or Really Simple Syndication has become a common vehicle for the distribution of continuously updated content on the Web. A source of content for blogs and online news services, RSS has experienced explosive growth.

What is RSS?

RSS is a method of describing for Web users the content available for distribution or syndication by an online editor. RSS is the acronym for Really Simple Syndication, although in the past, it was referred to as Rich Site Summary or RDF Site Summary.

From a technological point of view, RSS can be defined as an Extensible Mark-up Language or an XML application initially developed by Netscape.

RSS focuses on the syndication of content. Syndication is a process by which part of a web site is made available for use by other users. In its simplest form, syndication implies only licensing content for use, although in its most common form today it provides feeds built with RSS, which enables users to see an updated list of the content of the websites that include these feeds.

How does it work?

A website seeking to syndicate part of its content—such as article titles--to a newspaper or a blog, describes the content by posting a RSS document. The document is then registered in RSS editor directories. Finally, any user with an RSS aggregation and reading programme (e.g. Bloglines) and with a number of Web browsers can read this regularly distributed content.

RSS is not the only format used for the syndication of Web content. Since 2003, ATOM has been a very serious alternative to RSS, supported by the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) or by Google, which uses different platforms to syndicate the content of its services, such as G-mail, Google News or its blog platform: Blooger.

This capacity for automatically providing continuously updated content has led to the rapid growth in the use of RSS on online news services and, more recently, blogs. Two figures can give an idea of this growth; in August 2004, the number of feeds published was 644,000; a year later, the figure had increased to 13 million, a growth factor of 20.

Prospects

The prospects for RSS growth depends on two inter-related trends: The increase in the type of Web content eligible for syndication and the support it gets from the large industry players.

The future growth of RSS depends in large part on the support it receives from multi-media content. Pod-casting (the syndication of audio content linked to Apple’s iPod platform) is merely an initial step being followed by video (vodcasting) and which is spreading to new platforms (palm-casting).

In a more traditional sense, the future of RSS seems to be increasingly associated with Microsoft. In December 2005 this company announced its intention to use RSS as a basic technology for syndication with Internet Explorer and its e-mail client Outlook.

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