June 24, 2004

What is RSS?

One of the technology terms you'll see a lot these days is RSS, which stands for "Rich Site Summary" or "Really Simple Syndication." Basically, RSS is a way for a publisher -- usually the publisher of a news site or weblog-- to open up the website for syndication.

Just as a syndicated newspaper column or news item can appear in multiple newspapers simultaneously through a wire service, a site that has an "RSS feed" can automatically and immediately publish new additions to the site on other Web sites that subscribe to the feed or to individuals.

The feed can be set up to publish the entire article or to publish just a headline - or a headline and opening paragraph - with a link that lets the readers go to the site iteslf to get the full text.

Web sites can display the feeds they subscribe to directly on the pages of their sites. Individuals can use free online "news aggregators" (like Bloglines) or desktop software to subscribe to the feeds from multiple sites. The aggregator checks the sites for updates and, when a site is updated, the aggregator highlights the addition or notifies the user.

While these are the most common forms of syndication, RSS feeds can also be read by other devices such as PDAs and cell phones.

Why Bother with RSS?

Well, for example, I have about 25 blogs and news sites I like to check out on a regular basis - particularly for online education-related news and links. As you can imagine, trying to check out that many sites a day would take A LOT of time.... and a lot of that time would be wasted, since sites don't necessarily have updates every day, and some of the news on these sites isn't of interest to me.

Using a news aggregator, I can basically create my own daily online newspaper containing all the updates from just these sites. I can use it to scan the headlines, read articles that interest me, or save articles I don't have time to read at that moment.

A web site can use the feed from multiple sites to add a set of articles to their site that they think might be useful to their readers (e.g., on this blog, it might be useful for me to provide headlines from some of the education blogs I think might be useful to you - instead of just linking to them as I currently do through my "Ed Blogs" link).

This is still fairly new technology, and early adopters are still experimenting with ways to use RSS in the online classroom, but you can check out the following sites for more information:

Terms related to RSS:

  • XML (Extensible Markup Language). A way of creating Web documents so that they can be defined, transmitted, and interpreted by a number of different applications.
  • RSS feed. (also called "RSS channel") An XML file summarizing Web-based content that is automatically generated when a site is updated and which is read by news aggregators. A site's feed is usually indicated by a link marked "syndicate" or "subscribe" or with the images: rss.gif, rdf.gif, or xml.gif. (The link "Syndicate this site (XML)" shows the feed for this site)
  • Syndication. Simultaneous publication. To "syndicate" a site = to subscribe to a site's RSS feed.
  • RDF (Resource Discovery Framework). A version of RSS.
  • News Aggregators. (also called RSS readers or news readers) Applications that collect, scan, and organize RSS feeds for syndication.
  • Atom. A new Web log syndication format designed to address perceived problems with RSS. Atom is newer than RSS, so some aggregators may not be able to read Atom feeds.
  • Blogroll. A collection of Web log feeds that can be exchanged using OPML (Outline Processor Markup Language), allowing users to share the list of sites they subscribe to.

Posted by Joanne Tzanis at June 24, 2004 04:56 PM

Interesting you should ask this, Chris, since the optional assignment for this week and next will be to explore some free blogging sites and a Yahoo group communication site! (I'll be posting this in the next day or two)

I set this site up using a blogging program called MoveableType (there's a link at the bottom of the left-hand column), but I used an older version that was still classified as "freeware"...the current version charges a fee. There are many free blogging sites out there, however, that don't require you to have your own server or to know HTML -- the most well known of these is Blogger.com, which is now owned by Google. You can dive right in and set up your own blog in minutes (that would be a kinesthetic learning style -- I understand where you're coming from, since I'm the same way myself)

A blog is really just a form of CMS... the key things that differentiate blogs from discussion boards or other forums is that a blog is essentially a one-to-many publishing venue, whereas forums are set up for group discussion. Blogs tend to use a journal/diary-style setup with entries logged and archived by date, whereas a forum is generally organized by topic.

I'll share my "blogroll" on this site in the next few days so you can see some of the news sources I subscribe to.

Posted by: Joanne at June 29, 2004 07:53 PM

Ok - I read the article on blogging and RSS. I will read the others too.

But this brings up a couple of interesting observations on my part. When I get really excited about something I want to know everything about it - as fast as possible. What kind of learning style is that?

How are blogs different from say, a topics-based discussion forum? I don't mean RSS. Although I like the idea and want to experiment. I mean, I'd like to understand your thoughts about how you distinguish between a blog and a forum.

Posted by: Chris Davis at June 29, 2004 07:04 PM

Your blog is my blog

By now most people are famliar with the movie the matrix. We marveled over how easy it was to learn kung fu or download flying instructions for a Sikorski helicopter.

Well...I would like the skinny (do they still say that?) on your online learning blog. How did you set that up...and what news sources do you use?

Posted by: Chris Davis at June 29, 2004 06:37 PM