What is RSS?

All news, all the time, coming at you. I don't want to go to the Internet and search for news stories; I want them to come directly to me. So many news stories; so little time.

Instead of spending hours surfing and downloading content from your favorite news Web sites, you can download or buy a small program that will collect and organize the news for you.

Short for Rich Site Summary (sometimes called Really Simple Syndication), RSS is a lightweight XML format designed for sharing headlines and other Web content. Originated in the late '90s, RSS has since become one of the most popular XML formats today.

Thousands of Web sites today use RSS to drive traffic to their sites. It has evolved into a popular means of sharing content between sites such as CNN, BBC, Forbes, InfoWorld, Guardian, Wired, Salon and many others.

Who uses RSS?

RSS has gained in popularity especially with publishers and users. For publishers, RSS is a way to present structured information. For users, RSS is a tool for getting content where, when and how they want it.

Webmasters using RSS are seeing increased traffic to their sites. With RSS, they now have the ability to gather and distribute news in a more timely fashion.

Techies have been using RSS programs for quite some time. These programs are now becoming available to the masses on PC, Mac and cross platforms. They include NewzCrawler (PC), Headline Viewer (PC), AmphetaDesk (cross-platform), Radio Userland (PC or Mac), NetNewsWire (Mac) and many other programs.

Using RSS-aware programs, called news aggregators or newsreaders, individual users can get headlines and summaries along with links to the places where the stories originate. News aggregators are very popular in the weblogging community, as they allow users to be able to keep up with their favorite weblogs by checking their RSS feeds and displaying the new items.

How does RSS work?

Instead of your searching the Internet for information, RSS brings it right to your computer, in the format that you desire, where, when and how you want it.

You typically download and install an RSS newsreader or aggregator, then subscribe to your favorite Web sites from a directory list of thousands. Among the choices are the BBC, New York Times, CNet, Salon, ESPN, InfoWorld, The Christian Science Monitor, just to name a few.

When you sign on, you will see the most recent updates for each channel where you subscribed. Once you are signed on, you will see headlines, a summary, and sometimes the entire story and a photo or two. You can even click on a link and delve further into the site and go to the original source. Many programs run inside Web browsers while others are standalone programs. Most are free.

What's next for RSS?

Even though RSS continues to grow in popularity, it won't make Web browsing obsolete. It does give news organizations another way of reaching tech-savvy audiences as well as newshounds a wider net for the news.

And, beware: We may even see innovations in the way marketing and public relations executives use RSS to reach their audiences.

To subscribe to MacCentral's RSS feed, point your favorite news aggregator to http://maccentral.macworld.com/mnn.cgi. Macworld also offers RSS feeds for its Mac 911 and Editors' blogs.

This story, "What is RSS?" was originally published by PCWorld.

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