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RSS, Atom, Feeds, Aggregators, and Other Mumbo Jumbo

What the heck is the RSS thing? Is it just hype, or is there really something to it? Why should I care? I have had these same questions myself along the way to my current total dependence on RSS. Please allow me to add to the hype you've already heard: RSS has changed the way I use the web. It's funny, developer.* has offered RSS feeds for a long time—and as a reader I experimented with some early RSS aggregators a few years ago—but it was awhile before I really jumped on the bandwagon for my personal web reading. Now I subscribe to a few dozen feeds, and I add more to my subscription list all the time.

What I like best about RSS is that it gives me a lot of control over my web reading experience. I can target my reading much more specifically, and I don't miss new things from sites and bloggers that I might forget to check. (A lot of the RSS feeds I read are for blogs, but all kinds of web sites have RSS and Atom feeds now. For example, a couple friends of mine have an RSS feed for their online web comic. You can even watch CraigsList categories with RSS.) When the web sites one wants to keep up with number in the dozens it becomes too much to remember to go check those sites, many of which will be updated on an irregular or infrequent basis. If a site or blogger I like has a feed, I'll add it to my list.

It may sound like a burden to keep up with all these feed subscriptions (and we all have a hard enough time keeping up with multiple email in-boxes), but actually it's not. Because I know my feed reader is keeping up with what's new, what I've already read, and what I have not yet read, there's no pressure to look at the new entries in the feed any time soon—and there's no human sender on the other end that will be concerned, as is the case with an email. In addition, the nature of the feeds, with headlines and body text that I can scan, allows me to quickly peruse what's new and decide if I want to read it more closely.

The page you are reading now used to contain a whole lot of information about what RSS and Atom are, what a reader/aggregator is, etc. When I first created this page, RSS was new and largely unknown to most people, and there were few comprehensive sources of information on the web. Since then things in this area have been changing too fast for me to keep this page accurate and up-to-date. When I came across this great RSS/Atom information page on loadaverageZero, I decided to direct people there instead.

If you decide to give the RSS thing a try, you can go to this page for information about the feeds available from developer.*.

If you are looking for an RSS reader, this Wikipedia page might help you. One recommendation: think about whether you would prefer a web-based feed reader or an offline client. If you browse the web from different computers and want your feeds to be up-to-date when you switch, for instance, between your home and work computers, then a web-based reader might be best. Check out that Wikipedia page for more information


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