Q: One more time … what is RSS, and why should I care?

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A. You’re probably hearing more and more about RSS these days. You may also be noticing little orange RSS icons on many Web sites and most blogs. Here’s a plain English explanation of what RSS is and why you need to know about it.

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary. The former is the more commonly accepted phrase. It also helps to explain what RSS is.

RSS is a new way to both distribute and receive content online without using e-mail. Publishers use RSS to distribute a "news feed" to readers. Readers subscribe to an RSS feed via a newsreader or news aggregator. (If you want to get techie about it, RSS is based on XML, a standard for exchanging information between Internet applications.)

A newsreader is a little piece of software—it can also be an online service—that is downloaded to your desktop. It delivers a headline, short summary and a link back to the full text every time the news feed is updated.

News sites such as Yahoo! and CNET have been publishing RSS feeds for quite a while. More recently, the buzz is about blogs. Most blog software automatically includes an RSS feed. If you subscribe to a blog via RSS, you are alerted every time the blog is updated.

The beauty of the RSS format is that no e-mail is involved as the delivery mechanism. So, if you’re a publisher, there are no overflowing in-boxes or spam filters to block your e-newsletter. The downside for publishers, however, is that you don’t know much, if anything, about subscribers to your news feed or blog. Your readers don’t need to give you an e-mail address in order to subscribe. That’s a plus, of course, for those concerned about privacy.

So why the excitement? You no longer have to actively visit a long list of Web sites for information; instead, it comes to you automatically via the RSS feeds you’ve chosen. Similarly, publishers can be sure that their blog or news updates are being "pushed" to interested readers, without being siphoned off into e-mail junk folders.

We’re still in the early-adopter phase when it comes to syndicating content via RSS. But it’s catching on faster and faster, just as blogs are becoming more and more accepted as an online communications tool. Stay tuned …

Here is a good backgrounder on RSS and syndicating content:

One newsreader I recommend is NewsGator ( It works seamlessly with Outlook. Free newsreaders include Amphetadesk (, Bloglines ( and  Rocket ( ).

Debbie Weil is a Washington, D.C.-based Internet marketing & communications consultant and publisher of WordBiz Report. Get case studies, content tips & software recommendations in her Business Blogging Starter Kit at Subscribe fre*e to WordBiz Report at Read her blog at

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