Syndication and RSS: a simple introduction


in Geek stuff, Internet matters, Writing

A few people have asked me what ‘syndication’ and ‘RSS’ are, so I thought I would write a quick, non-technical introduction.

Syndication intro

The content of this blog can be broadly separated into two types: the text that makes up posts, and all the formatting that surrounds it. What syndication does is take just the text, allowing it to be read through some other site or program than the one usually used to view the site. The big reason why this is helpful is because it lets you quickly check a great many information streams to see if any have changed.

Instead of having to check more than 100 different pages every time I want to see if one has been updated, I can take a look at one page that lists all the different syndication ‘feeds.’


One service that allows this is BlogLines. If you have a look at my BlogLines account, you will see that it tracks more than 100 different ‘feeds.’ These include things as diverse as all the LiveJournal, WordPress, Blogger, and other blogs run by friends of mine; listings of video clips from the Colbert Report and the Daily show; headlines from Metafilter, Slashdot, and other news sites; and a few miscellaneous other things.

If you sign up for a BlogLines account, you can add two different feeds from my blog. Both use a technology called RSS, which stands for ‘Really Simple Syndication.’ The addresses in question are:

Blog posts:
Blog comments:

Opening either in a normal Internet Explorer or Firefox window will probably bring up a lot of confusing looking garble. This is the machine readable version of the blog. If you add one of those addresses to your list of feeds in BlogLines, however, you will see a list of recent posts presented, complete with short summaries and links back to the original. Whenever this site (or any other one you have listed) gets updated, it will turn bold on your BlogLines page.

Signing up for the comments feed will allow you to see whenever anybody leaves a comment on any post of mine, without having to check each one individually. I find it a useful way to follow conversations, without having to look at many different individual pages. For people running blogs, it can also be a good way to catch spam.

Firefox live bookmarks

Another way to read RSS feeds is to add them as ‘Live Bookmarks’ within Firefox. This can be done very easily. In Firefox, look over to the right hand side of the blog’s address, inside the white box near the top of the window. On the right hand side, there is a little orange icon with a white dot and radiating arcs. Any page on which you see that icon has a syndication feed available.

If you click that orange icon, a window will pop up asking you to name the bookmark and choose where in your bookmarks menu you want to see it. Then, any time you go into the bookmarks menu and select the name of that site, it will show you a listing of recent post titles. You can click on any of them to go to the post itself.

More information

Bloglines FAQ
WikiPedia on RSS
(includes the orange logo I described)
Firefox Live Bookmark tutorial

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

B June 8, 2006 at 6:57 pm

There are also lots of desktop RSS readers that you install on your computer, instead of using on the web. They’re less portable, but can have better features.

Milan June 30, 2006 at 11:42 am

Given how discussions seem to be spreading between different posts, I thought I should point out a better way of keeping track of them.

Like the posts themselves, the comments are all published in a machine-readable format called RSS. I describe RSS in some detail in this post. If you have a program or website (like BlogLines) that reads RSS, you can use the comment feed here.

If you just want to see all the comments listed in chronological order on a web page, use the Feedburner version.

Milan November 26, 2006 at 7:28 pm

Let it be known that Safari 2.0.4 has the best RSS and Atom feed management of any current browser that I’ve worked with. It is better than how Firefox 2 just hands feed management off to BlogLines, and it is less cumbersome than the system in Opera.

Kudos to the Safari team.

Milan August 15, 2008 at 12:19 am

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