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Why are RSS Feeds so complicated?

Those of us in the social media business have done an awful job explaining them.  We make it worse with a mishmash of terms for the exact same thing (RSS, XML, syndicate.)  I think we should set an industry standard to just call them "feeds" and drop all the other terms, and use this symbol: feed-icon-14x14

I had an really painful flight recently listening to a software engineer try to explain them to very nice, patient, and interested couple for 2 hours. (It didn’t help he was trying to show them how it worked on his computer that was offline because we were on a plane. Grrr.)

The next day my dad asked me about them.

Here’s my attempt at a clear answer to: "What are RSS Feeds?"

  1. Many web sites publish updates whenever they have a new post or story. This is the "feed."
  2. You can use a program called a "feed reader" to automatically collect all those stories so you can read them in one place.  Think of it as an inbox for news.
  3. It’s quite handy–all your favorite stories come to you, instead of you having to go check a bunch of sites all the time looking for new stories. When there’s something new, it shows up in your reader automatically.
  4. There are also feeds for things like eBay searches or Craigslist posts. You could have your feed reader automatically track any new eBay listing for a particular item you are looking for.
  5. You know if a web page has a feed if you see this icon: feed-icon-14x14.  It might also be near the top of your browser. 
  6. If you see these terms, they are all the same thing: RSS, XML, Syndicate This Site.

To get started:

  1. Get a feed reader.  My favorite is the free Google Reader.
  2. When you see the icon, click it to subscribe.
  3. Start reading.
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