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What is this business of RSS, XML, RDF and Atom?

It’s been a long day at work and you’re not in the mood to cook dinner or go out. It’s time to count on the reliable pizza delivery boy. The order is called and he promptly arrives with steaming hot pizza within 30 minutes as promised. If only it were that easy with a demanding family where no one can agree on the same restaurant for dinner. One wants Mexican, another wants Chinese, and another wants hamburger and Mexican.

Instead of running to three different places, you call a delivery service that goes to all of them and brings it to you. What could be easier to get a meal without cooking it or going to get it?

RSS, XML, RDF and Atom are the Internet’s food delivery men. The content they deliver is mixed and prepared elsewhere on the internet, just like food isn’t made on your doorstep and content is brought to you by acronym peers through software or an online app. Instead of trying to remember all the places you like to go to get the latest news, it all comes to mind once you order your food.

Click any of those orange or blue RSS, XML or RDF buttons and you’ll see garbled text. Some of it is readable, but reading in between is slow and difficult. In this case, you have the raw materials of the content known as the feed. To make it easy to read, download a feed reader that can interpret (add) ingredients, or sign up for an online service that can do the same.

When the software or app is ready to go, click the orange or blue button (or “Syndicate this page” or whatever) and copy the resulting URL from the address box. Paste it into the app to cook the ingredients where they are delivered to you ready for your enjoyment.

Syndication is not a new concept on the Internet, but it is growing in popularity as more websites and newsletters are mixing content into syndicated files, which are fed to an aggregator. Think of it as content that is ready to travel to where it is needed.

Take the feed and send it to the aggregator, another way to bookmark (or favorite) a site because you want to come back later. But how often did you come back to the site through your bookmarks/favorites?

Instead of going from one site to another looking for information, I have it all in front of me through the aggregator. The feeds are arranged in folders by topic to make them easy to find. If I write about the latest virus or worm, I open the security folder with security-related sources and scan them.

Scanning content through aggregators is easier than on a website because it’s in a folder with titles and maybe a short summary. On a website, you only get the benefit of news from that site and nowhere else. The folder has news from more than ten sources, including blogs, news sites, and newsletters.

Any content can be syndicated. It’s about having the back-end process in place, which depends on the application used to manage the content. If a site does not have such resources, there is content input software to create a feed file for posting to the site.

Most aggregators have export capabilities so the feed can be shared with other people interested in the same topic. If you are interested in my security sources, I can export them, in most cases, to an OPML file and you can import it into your aggregator.

Spam filters prevent readers from receiving newsletters or get lost in the spam pool. Offering a newsletter feed is a compromise.

Readers can get the content, only instead of going to the email inbox, it comes through the aggregator. It is a way to avoid spam. Like everything, it has its advantages and disadvantages:


  • Filters cannot prevent the newsletter from reaching its destination.
  • The recipient will get it; if the server is down, it will be downloaded next time and the email may be lost.
  • The feed can be syndicated providing more exposure for your content.


  • Trust readers to open aggregators like they open an email client, but some aggregators are integrated with an email client like NewsGator and there are online aggregators like Bloglines, which can be your home page.
  • The metrics won’t be as comprehensive, but they’re still there through the links.
  • It’s not as pretty as HTML based newsletters.

If the feed is created automatically, what do you have to lose? You’re providing another way for your readers to get your content, just like you can get pizza in different ways: going to the restaurant, ordering it delivered, or making it at home. More apps are adding syndication capabilities, making the process easier. Some have said that they won’t read something unless it has a feed.

Syndication works better than bookmarks. With bookmarks, you click on a site that might have your security information, only to find that it doesn’t. So, go back to the bookmarks to click on another site. Lather, rinse, repeat. With aggregators, there is no jumping from one site to another. Scan the headlines right there until you find what you need.

There was a time when we didn’t have the option of having pizza delivered to our doorstep. When we are too tired, we know that we can trust the delivery man. In terms of content, expect to see it show up on your doorstep more often than the pizza delivery guy, plus it’s cheaper and the cost just comes from the software, though there are plenty of free options available.

Syndication is here to stay and should be added to a company’s communication toolbox rather than replace it. Witness yourself by looking at RSS, XML, RDF and Atom out there.

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