05:44 AM

Of course, you know what RSS is ... so here's an article for your clueless boss

By Nick Aster for SiliconValleyWatcher

Welcome-2-RSS.jpgEven among the readers of tech publications like SVW there are a lot of people that don't really know what RSS is all about (or at least they won't admit it). Even if you do know all about RSS, no doubt there's someone in your organization is bluffing their way through conversations about it. If so, quietly slip them this article and help them get up to speed.

RSS variously stands for Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication. As a reader, all you need to know is that it's a way for you to keep track of new content on numerous websites without having to go view each individual site (such a chore!). Microsoft blogger Robert Scoble claims to consume 500 or more information sources on a daily basis, something no human could do without using an RSS reader.

For publishers and bloggers, RSS allows you to provide a constant stream of content to your readers, without having to send out email alerts, with all of the maintenance and spam filtering that involves. Indeed, Scoble famously asserted, "if you don't have an RSS feed, you should be fired."

RSS is especially associated with blogs because just about every blogging service generates RSS (or the similar Atom format) feeds. RSS existed for several years before blogging really took off, so it's not to much to say that blogs made RSS what it is.

RSS is so great because it frees you from having to deal with slow-performing websites, flashing ads, poor site navigation and other hazards. You can have content sent to you instead, like a well-organized piece of email. Because an RSS reader can alert you to new entries, it's great for following the news or finding out when your competitor has posted something new on their website.

The only hard part is that you need an RSS reader (like a browser for RSS) - or "aggregator" (because the software pulls together various feeds). There are a bunch of different ones out there, but the easiest ones to use are the ones that attach to your email client (like Outlook or Thunderbird). This means that your email client includes a special set of folders for RSS. Each folder will be filled with relevant news that you've specifically tailored for your needs.

I highly recommend Mozilla's Thunderbird for both your email and RSS needs. If you are married to Outlook on Windows, there are both commercial and open source plugins to RSS-ify Outlook. NewsGator is probably the leading commercial product; for something free, check out rsspopper. Mac Users probably have something similar, but I'm afraid you'll have to google around for it.

You can also use web-based readers like Bloglines and My Yahoo, which have their advantages; but I much prefer Thunderbird because I can download everything at once and go.

Once you have your RSS reader set up, you're ready to start subscribing. In an ideal world, the reader would automatically find the feed and you could subscribe to it with a single click. The Firefox browser does actually identify RSS automatically, so if youre' content to read RSS in the context of browser bookmarks, you're all set. That's really too clunky for more than a few feeds, though. (Firefox's Sage bookmarks extension does improve matters somewhat.)

If you use My Yahoo, you may want to install the Yahoo toolbar, which gives you a one-click option to subscribe to RSS.

In other clients, though, you may have to manually find and paste the RSS URL into the app. On SiliconValleyWatcher, scroll about half way down to the Syndicate section in the left sidebar. We actually have several feeds available. To subscribe, click on the link you're interested in, copy the URL and paste that into your reader. Our main feed is at http://www.siliconvalleywatcher.com/index.xml.

Many websites feature little orange buttons that say "XML" (RSS is a form of XML) or "RSS." Click on those to find the URL. Other sites have aggregator-specific buttons. If you click on an "Add to My Yahoo" button, for instance, a browser window will open that will allow you to add the RSS to your My Yahoo page.

Major publications may offer dozens of different feeds. The New York Times offers a whole page of these babies. So does Moreover. If you're looking for corporate news, check out the Nooked directory.

All it takes is an hour or so before you'll have a long list of RSS feeds ready to go inside your reader. If all went well, you'll be getting what you want delivered to you like a hot pizza. Give it a try!