Blogging Story: What is RSS?

Filed as Features on December 31, 2007 1:09 pm

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So over the Christmas holidays, my uncle and I were sitting around in the basement, with my cousin, Mark, and he wanted to know if either of us knew of any software that would help the military organize their information in a better way. We talked about Basecamp, and a few other pieces of software, but of course we knew that the military would only accept software from a big box company like Microsoft or IBM, despite the amazing advances that other companies have made in the software space.

As we were going over the features that Basecamp had, I pointed out that it supported RSS, which for me was kind of cool, though I didn’t know how it could really be useful for collaborative software like Basecamp, I still thought it was worth mentioning. My uncle looked at me and raised an eyebrow. He didn’t know what RSS was.

My uncle is not a slouch academically, or even technologically. He helps pick out some of the equipment that the military will be using next, and his computer set up at home is fairly high tech, but RSS was foreign to him.

I went on to explain that RSS is like being able to subscribe to a variety of sites, as though they were newspapers, and your RSS reader, is like the house they are all delivered to. All the content you want is pushed to you, rather than having to go to each site, find it and read it.

Despite showing him an example of how useful it could be, he didn’t seem to really understand how it could benefit someone like him. He didn’t see the inefficiency of going to a dozen different news sites to get the content he wanted. He was worried he would miss something by subscribing to RSS, or that he would be getting too much of the things he didn’t want.

He also didn’t see the business model behind RSS, asking me if only certain content was pushed through, or if the content was limited in any way. The idea seemed totally strange to him, and despite sitting with him for half an hour, showing him how useful it could be, the end result was the same as the start: he didn’t understand RSS.

As a blogger, I constantly try to push people towards my RSS feed, as I want to keep them informed each and every time I write a new article, but here is my uncle, a man in his 40′s, unable to wrap his brain around why I would want to do that.

Has RSS really gotten to the point where it is well known enough by the Internet users at large that we can, without an informational page, push people towards it? Or should we bloggers be explaining what RSS is, and what the reader will get so that we can continue to teach those that don’t know, what they are “subscribing” to?

My hope for 2008, is that RSS becomes more ubiquitous, and pervasive online, and that next time I mention it, I don’t see a raised eyebrow from someone that does hundreds of tasks online each and every day.

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  1. By David Zemens [1955 Design] posted on December 31, 2007 at 1:13 pm
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    I have mixed feelings about RSS even though I understand it fully.

    I use RSS feeds for the blogs that I visit, but still maintain the feed itself as an individual bookmark in my Firefox browser. I still like the “feel” of actually going to the website directly and reading the post, even though I understand the inefficiency of doing so.

    I think that something is lost when we view all the information in the same format, be it the Google reader or another reader of your choice. I still like to “touch” the actual website where the content resides.

    But that’s just me…

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  2. By Avi posted on December 31, 2007 at 2:29 pm
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    David,
    You mention really good point.
    while we trying to explain all world, what is Web 2.0, and it confused them, from one reason, too much information.

    If they could understand this small thing call RSS, well, i guess from this point your thoughts meeting mine, so you said it clearly.

    Reply

  3. By Ivo posted on December 31, 2007 at 2:42 pm
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    Good point. I started my blog in May. I have quite regular connections through email, IM and social networks with 300-400 people, around 30% of them form Italy where I live. Many more are from USA and Asia. Average age perhaps around 35. Whenever I tell them about my blog and RSS feeds, only the technically skilled know what I am talking about, I’d say not more than 15-20% of my contacts. Since is not something that you get immediately on your browser or mailer people aren’t still much aware of the existence of RSS. A typical RSS page is not that friendly for a beginner.

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  4. By AnneTanne posted on December 31, 2007 at 2:42 pm
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    For a blog in a non-technical niche (like my blog on herbs is) it is absolutely a must to explain what RSS is, and even then,the majority of the subscribers will prefer e-mail updates.

    I did even discover, the majority of the interested readers of my blog doesn’t even know there is a difference between a ‘normal’ website and a blog that is frequently updated, so I have to explain that too!

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  5. By Doug Green posted on December 31, 2007 at 4:53 pm
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    You have to explain and they still don’t get it. I suspect the main target audience for most blogs is other bloggers. So yes, you’ll continue to have to explain it to folks who equate “blogging” with “online journaling”. Probably ad nauseum.

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  6. By redwall_hp posted on January 1, 2008 at 7:28 pm
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    “I use RSS feeds for the blogs that I visit, but still maintain the feed itself as an individual bookmark in my Firefox browser. I still like the “feel” of actually going to the website directly and reading the post, even though I understand the inefficiency of doing so.”#
    I’ve always thought that way too. I used to use Firefox’s live bookmarks for my RSS-reading needs, but eventually my collection of feeds got too big. I didn’t like any of the “normal” feed-readers out there, so I made my own. It’s called MyNT, if anyone wants to try it out. It works in the same general way of Live Bookmarks. You middle-click on the headline, and the post opens-up in a new tab.

    On the topic of people not understanding RSS, I try to point them toward a great video I found on YouTube. It’s called “RSS in Plain English” by Lee LeFever of CommonCraft. It does a great job at explaining RSS to the feed-ignorant.

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  7. By Jere Majava posted on January 1, 2008 at 7:44 pm
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    I work as an educational technologist in a university and have been trying educate our staff on the benefits of blogs for the last four years. During that time things have changed a lot. I don’t have to push the message anymore, instead the teachers and researchers are now coming to me asking for advice on how to get started. They know blogs and recognize the benefits – but RSS still confuses them.

    I’m hesitant to say what will happen this year, since I would have expected feeds to be as mainstream as blogs by now. I made such a prediction a year ago, based on the fact that then upcoming IE7 would, as a last modern browser, have support for feed auto detection built in. But this hasn’t happened. Publishers are mostly “getting it”, but users seem to just ignore the orange icons.

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  8. By Michael Aulia posted on January 2, 2008 at 6:18 am
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    The funny thing is, I’m a blogger myself and a techy, but I’m not using an RSS reader myself.. (still going to the same sites everyday to browse for news/new forum posts)..weird, eh

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  9. By Rose posted on January 2, 2008 at 10:53 am
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    Without RSS, I would definitely not have read this post :)

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