Can you explain web syndication to me?
March 29, 2004 9:31 PM   Subscribe

I don't understand RSS, and even less so, Atom. Can anyone provide a simple layman's explanation of them?

I've managed to implement both into my site thanks to Movable Type, but I really have no idea what they are for. I see how RSS can be used with My Yahoo, but other than that what is the point? As for Atom, I don't even know how to use it at all... what in the heck reads these files?
posted by swank6 to Computers & Internet (6 answers total)
Response by poster: Or I guess to put my question more simply: how do RSS and Atom help me, the novice webmaster, and my small audience of readers?
posted by swank6 at 9:34 PM on March 29, 2004

Here's an attempt at a consise explanation, but you're probably looking for this (the first paragraph is about all you need to know).
posted by mathowie at 9:40 PM on March 29, 2004

If those links aren't layman-y enough for you, I've found that a good way to explain RSS to people is just to show them my news reading program. After about 10 seconds they usually go "Oh. Where can I download that again?"

There are some screenshots of NetNewsWire (a common Mac reader) that should help you understand -- the first on in particular. It's a little like an email interface for blogs. You usually see a big list of who has updated recently and you can read the posts right in the reader or click through them to load the website itself.

Rather than clicking through dozens of links in your bookmarks every morning, you can see at a glance who has updated their site and what they have to say. It's a remarkable time saver.

Some programs do fancier things with the information (cross-threading links, etc) but that's the gist.
posted by bcwinters at 6:35 AM on March 30, 2004

Also, FWIW, while newsreaders like NNW may really be the best use for RSS so far, it's interesting to note that the original intent of RSS was more for it to be a syndication format (which is what one of those Ss is for). That is, if Alice wants Bob to be able to publish snippets of her blog on his blog, RSS would be the exchange format. It's still used that way to some extent, but I think most people see RSS as providing a hook for newsreaders, not syndication. "The street finds its own use for things."
posted by adamrice at 6:59 AM on March 30, 2004

And if it isn't clear, Atom is attempt to redo RSS with a consistent, precisely defined definition for the format. As you can see from mathowie's 2nd link, there are a lot of different versions of RSS and they all differ just a bit and are under specified.

Atom also defines a way to create/update/delete your blog entries. This allows for people to write smart, good looking client tools for manipulating your blog so you don't have to use the little text box Movable Type provides for you to do content authoring. Once again, there were other schemes that did this and Atom tries to redo it with consistency and preciseness in mind.

On Preview: Its interesting to note that blog, RSS and mathowie aren't in the spell checker.
posted by mmascolino at 7:40 AM on March 30, 2004

Looking at screenshots of an aggregator will give you a good idea of how RSS can be useful. Check out Bloglines in action too.
posted by Aaorn at 9:27 AM on March 30, 2004

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