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RSS Kicks Ass!

First published Aug 4, 2021 at 09:04 PM

Last modified Feb 6, 2023 at 12:32 PM

RSS icon

You may have seen icons like the one shown above on some websites. This indicates that the site has an RSS syndication feed available for users to follow the content using a feed reader or news aggregator. RSS feeds are an easy way to be notified about new content from various websites, and it is a better notification system than mailing lists or manually checking each site.

How do RSS feeds work?

Some websites with frequently changing content like blogs, podcasts, or video sharing sites, will have a link to an XML file containing the RSS feed and its items. Links to RSS feeds are commonly a radio wave icon which is sometimes orange. The user adds this link to their feed reader.

When checking for new content, the feed reader will use the link to download an XML file written in a standardized feed format, and look for new items in the XML file. The feed reader will organize several feed items in a list.

Since an RSS feed is served as an XML file, they can be written and served as if they were HTML webpages and do not require mailing lists or server-side scripting.

All your subscriptions in one place

RSS feeds in SeaMonkey's mail reader, with my notes feed open

When using RSS feeds to subscribe to various things, the user can see all their notifications from several feeds organized all in their feed reader, and they can view the item's corresponding webpage in their browser using the item's link. This eliminates the need to manually visit so many sites to look for new content when the user can just refresh all their feeds at once.

More control over what you follow

A lot of social networks are infamous for using an algorithm that recommends content of its choosing, or does not notify the user about their subscriptions whatsoever despite them saying they want to see all new content from them. I have experienced this a lot when I used a Google account for many YouTube subscriptions.

With RSS feeds, the user can add whatever they want to follow to their feed reader, and the user will be notified about all the new content from a feed. There is no algorithm deciding what the user should and should not be notified about.

The feed reader can be configured to automatically refresh the feeds at a certain time interval, or the user can choose to manually refresh the feeds. This can help prevent push notifications from distracting the user from their work.