Many people I talk to don’t know what RSS is and so they’re confused about how it might be important for their business. RSS, which stands for Really Simple Syndication, and is sometimes just called a feed, is a way for one website to send out it’s content in a way that other websites and programs can easily read. Most people are actually already using feeds, they’re just not aware of it.
A funny thing happened on the way to the Mashup. I’m sure someone somewhere, maybe even here, told you that RSS feeds were going to revolutionize the way we distribute information. We were all so right in so many ways because RSS, or ATOM if you prefer, has opened up the world to the unimagined possibilities available online. Think of some way that you want to consume information. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Ok, you are all right you can consume information that way. Oh, heh, I mean almost all of you are right. That guy in the back with the Helvetica shirt in Metalica font, I’m sorry but we can’t help you with your idea. Thing is, as much as you may want to have a single page that can then pull and update XML based RSS feeds from any site in the world from within the browser without refreshing, you’re not allowed. It is for your own protection actually. We call it the Same Origin Policy.
Web browsers weren’t designed with mashups in mind, and ‘the warts have been there from day one’, [David Boloker, cofounder of the OpenAjax Alliance and IBM’s CTO of Emerging Internet Technologies] says. Browsers contain a security feature called the same-origin policy that’s meant to keep malicious code hosted on one site from grabbing data, such as stored credentials, off another site. The same-origin policy prevents websites from one domain from requesting data belonging to another domain. ~ Security services and Mashups
But, of course, Mashups do exist. We see Google Maps on thousands of pages not under the google.com domain. How is it done? We’ll get to the hero of the day in a second, for now lets look at other popular workarounds
- Mashup at the Server Side: Since the JS limitation is browser based, you could do all of your mashups at the server. The server could serve as the collector of the different sources of information, combine them intellegently and cache the results. At best this idea is inconvenient because it adds layers where they need not normally be. At worst this does not scale when you have a single location for distributed information
- AJAX Proxy. Similar to the first method, a proxy allows the client to pull the information through it. It isn’t stored on the proxy, though it can be cached, and no combination is done. Again, this is a scaling issue
My prediction; RSS feeds are going to move away from XML and on to JSON in the future. Or at minimum, support both. John Resig, the creator of jQuery, even has a converter to get us all started.
Photo attributed to jasonr611
I recently had a reader ask me about how to use RSS. He had seen my post about using RSS to monitor his brand, was interested in giving it a try, but wasn’t sure how to get started. So here’s how to get started:
- Choose a feed or RSS reader. There are many websites which provide this service – including iGoogle, Google Reader, Bloglines, and My Yahoo. Most web browsers and some email programs also provide this functionality. And there are also applications you can download so you can read feeds right from your desktop. You can find a list here or here. I personally like Google Reader because I can read my feeds from any computer and my phone and it stays updated with what I’ve read and haven’t read.
- Look for feeds to subscribe to. Feeds will usually be marked with an icon: or one that says RSS, or you’ll see a link that says subscribe to this site/page. Sometimes a feed isn’t clearly marked, but the website still has one. If you don’t see a feed icon, try putting the URL/link to the website into your feed reader – many will detect feeds for you.
- Read your feeds. I’m subscribed to many, many feeds. But I find that I can easy scan what’s going on – without necessarily reading every feed. It saves the hassle of visiting every single website for updates – but I do still visit some to bookmark a page in delicious or to comment on an article.
So, that’s it. Pretty simple and straight-forward. Once you’ve chosen a feed reader, most provide specific instructions on how to use them. If you have any other questions about how to use RSS, please email me (or leave a comment below).