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How RSS Works

Lots of sites that publish regular information have their own RSS feeds, like Marshall Brain's BrainStuff weblog.
Lots of sites that publish regular information have their own RSS feeds, like Marshall Brain's BrainStuff weblog.
2008 HowStuffWorks

The trouble with living in the Information Age is paradoxical: There's too much information. It's everywhere. How are you supposed to keep track of all the news, sports, weather and blogs you follow? Better yet, how are you going to do that and find time for work, school and family?

If you're addicted to the constant flow of data that we know as the Internet, you're not going to be able to manage it without some help. One way to keep track of it all has grown very popular since its introduction in 1997: RSS. Short for Really Simple Syndication (at least now -- more on that later), RSS is a way to subscribe to a source of information, such as a Web site, and get brief updates delivered to you.



These sources are called feeds. When you subscribe, you'll get a feed -- often a series of headlines and brief summaries -- of all the articles published on that particular Web page. This lets you scan the articles on the page more efficiently. Sometimes you'll even spot more headlines that you might never have seen buried on the original page.

Don't feel badly if you haven't heard of RSS -- you may have already come into contact with it without knowing its name. Some Web-browsing software automatically detects RSS feeds. Firefox and Opera display the now-common square orange badge for a Web feed in the browser's address bar when they find RSS feeds on a site. You'll see a similar symbol in Internet Explorer's toolbar. Safari shows a blue rectangle with "RSS" written in white letters.

Those emblems show the presence of active RSS feeds on a site to help you get started. Click on one, though, and you'll get a list of options which may seem a little intimidating if you don't know what they mean. Some sites have multiple feeds for the same page with different versions of RSS or a competing standard, Atom. To which should you subscribe? When you choose one of them, what happens next?

Don't get discouraged and quit, though -- once you learn how to use news feeds, you'll save time by scanning headlines from your favorite sites. On the next page, we'll take a look at how the format got its start and what it was designed to do. Before long, you'll have all the information you could ever read. And then some.

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