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What is RSS and how to take advantage of it

25 mayo, 2021

With the closure of Google Reader, the term RSS has played again both in specialized publications and in those that do not, and it comes back to the fore every time a new service appears, something that fortunately happens more frequently. However, many people may have heard of it for the first time.

Therefore, we have believed that it would be good to explain what exactly is RSS, how it works, how feed readers work and what advantages its use has without going into technicalities, so that anyone can understand it, in addition to reviewing some tools to get more out of it.

h2. What is RSS and how does it work

What is RSS and how does it work

Let’s go by parts. Let’s start by saying that the term RSS has ended up being used to reflect some technologies that share a common purpose: easily provide information updated. They are often known as feeds. RSS is just one type of feed, like Atom, another well-known one.

Since RSS ended up becoming more popular, the term is used synonymously with feed, even when we are talking about the Atom format. In practice, as users we will hardly notice differences between one format and another. They both come to fulfill the same function, which is to provide us with updated content.

RSS itself is nothing more than a file format in XML language. In it, the information is encoded in a way that makes it possible for any program, application or web service to display it in the way that it deems most convenient. Virtually all current content managers generate RSS files automatically, so they update them when we publish something new.

Although depending on the content manager and the configuration you have, the RSS file will contain the latest published content. For example, in WordPress by default the RSS contains the last ten posts. When we publish a new one, it will be added to the beginning and the oldest one will be removed, so that there are still ten left.

The RSS ecosystem is not complete without the other part, the program or service that makes use of it. The RSS itself, although it can be viewed by anyone from a browser, is not very useful that way: we will only see the content dotted with code. That’s where the feed aggregators or readers, which show us the content so that we can read it comfortably.

Although it is the most popular way in which RSS is used, its use on the web goes beyond reading the news. This format is usually used internally in many sites for many things, although it would mainly be used to send updated information from one site to another. For example, to display website headlines or status updates. However, in this article we are going to stay with the most popular use.

h2. The use of RSS: beyond reading the news

We have to think that RSS works basically to distribute information. Depending on the data that the file contains and which application or service reads it, they will be used for one thing or another. But what you have to keep in mind is that a feed, be it RSS or Atom, basically serves so that the information published on one site appears, complete or partial, on another.

RSS became known thanks to the fact that, combined with a feed reader, it became the best method of accessing news and articles from a wide variety of sites in one place. The rise and popularization of blogs made its name and its characteristic orange icon known. However, since after all, what RSS does is transmit information, this system is used for much more than reading blogs or online publications.

For example, Quora offers a feed for your topics. Many newspapers have feeds for their sections available, even if only the headlines of the articles are offered here. Also online sales sites usually have feeds to tell us when new items are available or even when they change price. Many forum systems also make use of them, sending the headlines of new topics or notifying of new responses. And going back to blogs, leaving aside the main content, sometimes it is possible to use a feed to subscribe to the comments of a specific article and be aware of what is said in them.

Another example of use is the syndication on social networks. Many services or plugins for content managers (such as WordPress) make use of feeds so that, when they are updated, a status update is published on Facebook or Twitter. In this way, we do not need to publish anything manually. Similarly, some of the services that reflect our activity and publish it on social networks make internal use of feeds with the same objective.

There are also torrent programs that allow the use of feeds to download automatic the moment they are available. Another use that is often given is the automatic publication of the content of a website on a different site. In this case, there are times when there are unscrupulous people who use this method to, directly, steal content and publish it as if it were their own. But that is a separate issue.

h2. This is how feed readers work

This is how feed readers work

Virtually all feed aggregators or readers work the same way. same basic way. Some have more features, others with less. These are precisely the ones that lead us to select one or the other and this is usually a matter of tastes and needs. Feed readers can be online or local. Normally, the use of online readers is preferred as this way we can access our sources from anywhere.

To add a feed to a reader, generally we have to put in the box enabled for it the feed address of the publication. Depending on the reader, it will have to be exactly the URL of the feed or it could just be the URL of the publication, the reader automatically detecting where the feed’s URL is located and adding it without the need for us to do anything else.

In general, There is not limit In the number of feeds that we put add in a reader, although there are some paid ones that offer limited free versions in which we can only put a certain amount, but I think there are not many of this type.

Every time a post includes new content, the RSS file will be updated. The feed reader periodically check sources that we have added and if it finds that any of them have updated their RSS file, it will show us the content. The reader keeps track of how many articles have been published since we added the feed and discounts those that we open, so that we can know which (and how many) we have read and which ones have not.

As I said, each reader usually has some characteristics or others. However, the most common are the ability to organize our feeds into folders and post markup, so that we can revisit them later. The normal thing is that at least we can mark them as favorites, accessing all from a single section. Others allow the use of tags, so that we can put keywords to the publications for a better classification and organization.

h2. Advantages of using RSS to access content

It’s been a while since we’ve published an “extensive article” here: https: // to-read-news about the advantages of using a feed reader over other methods of obtaining information. The text is still valid and I recommend that you read it. However, I would like highlight three points Specific reasons why it is so advantageous to use a feed reader to access content of all kinds.

  • We select our own content sources. There is no pre-selection made by third parties: we choose, no matter how minority or popular the source is.
  • We save time by being able to view the content published by all these sources from one place.
  • We view the contents in a uniform way, and although this means not being able to enjoy the design of some sites, sometimes it also means not having to suffer it.

The learning curve of an RSS reader it is not very high. As soon as we locate the options that are common to all (such as adding a feed and viewing its content, for example), things become simple. What is not as easy as those applications that show us a selection of the most popular publications? No, it is not. But the benefits we get from spending a little time learning how to use a reader seem to me to make the little effort worth it.

h2. Tools to take advantage of RSS

Tools to take advantage of RSS

Due to the relatively low popularity of RSS, the tools that we can find to get more out of it are not many, at least outside the strictly technical field. However, there are a few that are very easy to handle and that make it possible for anyone to do many more things starting from a feed.

  • Feed Readers: Obviously, the first tools we should talk about are the feed readers, as they are the most widespread. With the disappearance of Google Reader, several alternatives have flourished that we have already been talking about in Genbeta. Some are a bit green while others offer a fairly complete experience. It all depends on what we need. As a general rule, readers that can be accessed from any device, not just from the desktop, are usually preferred, either because they have a good web version for mobile or because they offer clients for different platforms. If you are looking for one, I recommend that you review the alternatives that we offered at the time. Personally, I also recommend trying Digg Reader, that although it still needs to improve, today it is a fairly competent reader.
  • Find feeds on topics that interest you: the normal thing is that first we look for sites that offer certain contents and that later we find out if they have a feed or not, right? However, with “Instant RSS Search”: http: // we do it the other way around: the search is carried out in feeds in which the content that interests us is published. A very interesting tool to populate our reader with all kinds of resources.
  • Create an RSS feed of any site that doesn’t have it: not all sites generate their RSS. For those, there are several services that allow us to generate it and thus be able to incorporate it into our feed reader. Among them, I found that one of the most interesting is “Page2RSS”: http: //, since it has a bookmarklet to create RSS feeds and also a Chrome extension that warns us when a site it does not have RSS to create it in case we need it. Other options are “FeedYes”: http: // and Feed43. By the way,…