29 August 2007
RSS is great. I'm sure it would surprise no one that I could come up with a long list of criticisms of the technology, but—in actual practice—I'm happy with it. In fact, I'm starting to become annoyed at sites that don't offer RSS feeds. (I'm looking at you, web site of First United Methodist Church, Round Rock.) What is it? An RSS feed is a standard way for web sites to offer a list of recent articles/items. You use an RSS reader, or aggregator, to subscribe to feeds. I use Google Reader. You can also use My Yahoo. Firefox and Safari can appearantly handle the task as well. Your reader lets you know what feeds have updates & let's you read the items. (Although sometimes the item is little more than a link to the full story on the original web site. It depends on the feed.) I'm currently subscribed to 106 feeds. Podcasts are essentially RSS feeds that contain audio. This icon, , indicates either a feed or something RSS related. Incidentally, Google Reader generates that list of shared items here on my blog. When I see an interesting item in Google Reader, I click a button & it gets added to those shared items. It's natural to think that it's important for a feed to have regular updates. Ironically, however, the opposite is true. Noisy feeds that fill my reader with a constant stream of low interest items risk me unsubscribing. Where RSS really shines are the infrequently updated feeds. Your reader takes care of checking them regularly & only brings the feed to your attention when there is something to read. A dead feed (or—more importantly—a dormant, seemingly-dead feed) isn't a problem because it doesn't take any of your attention. Unfortunately, in the migration from Usenet → web → RSS, the web reinforced the "must have regular updates" idea. That made sense for the web before RSS, but not for RSS.