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What is RSS and Why Do I Care?

What is RSS?

Well, it stands for “Really Simple Syndication” but given the fact that there is still not widespread adoption and so few people understand it, one could take exception to that moniker. In any case, let’s try to use a newspaper analogy to explain this. Think about reading your local newspaper. For many people, there are certain sections that are of more interest than others. And maybe some sections that are of no interest. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could call up the newspaper and tell them, “I’m only interested in the Local, Business, and Sports sections, so would you please only include those in my newspaper? Also, I’d like the newspaper delivered to me at home, the office, and in my car – depending upon where I am at the time.”

So, that’s it in a nutshell; it allows you to subscribe to “feeds” that contain news and information from sources that are of interest. And depending on your technology platforms, you can read them from anywhere, anytime. You can scan over headlines, deciding which (if any) sound interesting, choose whether or not to read the entire article, and even make notes, mark them as a favorite, or share them with your friends and associates.

For this particular article, I’m going to stay away from the more technical how-to stuff and try to concentrate on the “what” and “why”. I’ve spoken with many colleagues in the past couple of weeks who are either new to the concept or don’t really understand how it can be leveraged by them to help them meet their personal and/or professional goals.

Here’s a snapshot of my Google Reader. It’s only showing publications I haven’t yet marked as “read” (click on the image to see full size).

So you can see that I’ve set up my reader to “tag” feeds with certain keywords (e.g. “FFL”, “LinkedIn”, “News”, “Sports”, etc…) I can browse through the publications based on these categories and when something seems worth reading more, I’ll either click on the article to read it immediately or “star” it so that I can read it later. Because I’m using Google Reader, I can also do all of this on my BlackBerry as well using Google’s Mobile Reader Application.

Why Do I Care?

  • Let the information come to you. For me personally, this is the most compelling benefit of RSS. I don’t have to worry about missing out on information that might be important to me by failing to read a particular issue of a newspaper or seeing a press release on a company’s web site.
  • It takes all kinds. There are many different types of RSS feeds available for subscription that make it possible to stay informed of many different topics. You can subscribe to news articles, blog posts, forum discussions, Craigslist postings, press releases, etc…
  • It’s OK to look. Any RSS reader will display a headline and several summary lines describing the publication, allowing you to quickly and easily scan through for items of interest.
  • Save, tag, share, and/or comment. RSS readers generally provide capabilities to perform tasks to organize, document, and share your subscriptions. If you see an interesting article but don’t have time you can save it to read for later. You can assign “tags” that categorize articles and even share them with others in your social and/or professional circle.

If you want to start utilizing RSS, the first decision to make is selecting a RSS Reader. Read this Lifehacker article to get some recommendations. You can also see how many different ways there are to make use of your RSS feeds.

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