What is RSS and how will it affect infopackets?

Dennis Faas's picture

Infopackets Reader James S. writes:

" Dear Dennis,

For the last two email editions of your newsletter, I have noticed a 'special announcement' near the top of the page, concerning 'RSS implementation' to your web site. At the bottom of the announcement, you have linked to a review of FeedDemon to better explain the RSS technololgy.

I'm a bit stumped, however; the more I read about RSS, the more I don't understand it! There almost seems to be too many explanations. In fact, RSS sounds so complicated that I sincerely feel like throwing away my computer and going back to 'the good old days' before computers.

I really enjoy your newsletter, but am wary about RSS because I don't fully understand it. Can you please provide me with a simplified explanation of RSS, and how it will change the way interact with your web site? Thanks for any assistance you can give! "

My response:

A few others have emailed me already asking the same question. To best answer this, I will provide a number of comparisons that outline RSS versus email newsletter technology (with respect to our web site).

First, an explanation of RSS --

In a nutshell, RSS stands for "Really Simple Syndication". RSS is a technology for sharing information from a web site (such as infopackets) to you (such as your computer). RSS is somewhat similar to email and instant messaging, except it's a designated news reader (in an end-user sense). For example: After compiling an article, I upload it to the infopackets web site. RSS headlines are then generated out of the articles, and then posted online infopackets in special RSS computer language on a special RSS page. You then use your RSS news reader to download the news headlines and then pick and choose which news items you want to read [hint: the headlines will look similar to what our index page now looks like now]. Once you decide on the article to read, you click it, and you're taken directly to the article on our web site.

Bingo, bango, boom -- it's that simple. ;-)

Now, for a comparison of why RSS is better than email newsletter technology:

1. Email spam filters block our newsletter from being delivered to a lot of folks; with RSS, you don't need to worry about that because RSS operates entirely different. Having said that: you can *still* subscribe to the newsletter via email if you prefer, but our web site will be embracing RSS technologies (which also means that our web site layout will be geared toward RSS compatibility).

2. With RSS, you can subscribe and remove yourself from a news channel instantly using a click of a button. RSS gives puts you in full control over which channels you want, plus, you don't have to divulge any personal information (email address, name). Compared to an email newsletter, you might have share your name and email address in order to add or remove yourself from an announcement list.

3. RSS news readers keep track of the last article you've read, which headlines you've downloaded from a web site, etc. So you don't have to ask yourself "did I read that already?"

4. Organization: As more news channels (topics) become available on our site, you can organize your news feeds using filters. For example: you can tell your RSS reader to scan for specific words like "DVD"; so if a headline comes out featuring DVDs, you'll be notified.

5. As I mentioned above, you will still be able to receive the newsletter in email or by using RSS. In other words: today, tomorrow, and the next day, the newsletter will be available via email. So don't freak out. I don't know why so many people are asking me this question but let me make it very clear ;-) The only major difference is the way that our web site will be organized online. This is basically where we're at right now (see #6).

6. Our main page will be used to "house" all of the channel headlines on our web site. Articles will be display on the main page with the subject of the article, followed by the article introduction ("snippet"), and then a link to read the rest of the story. This is pretty much how things have been done for the last little while; the major difference now is that each article in the email version of the newsletter will always link to the main page instead of linking directly to the article.

This is done for the simple fact that I want people to get used to going to the main page to see all of our most recent articles, rather than linking directly to 1 article and then forgetting to go back to the main page to see what other news that is available. This is especially a good idea once new channels are added and we have more authors postings items on a continual basis. Plus, once there are 50 or so authors on our web site, not everything is going to get put in the email version of the newsletter, which is also why the idea of organizing articles through a "channels" using an RSS news reader is a very good idea -- because you can "tune in" and "tune out" which channel feeds you do / do not want.

Also note that the links on the main page will continually update with new headings and older ones will be overwritten. If you use a good RSS Reader (like FeedDemon), you will always be up-to-date on which links you've read and which ones you haven't. Compared to the email newsletter, there really isn't a way to organize the articles in this manner -- so you'll have to visit the site on a regular basis to make sure that you're up to date on things.

7. You can also use your RSS news reader to subscribe to news feeds hosted on other web sites and it will keep track of which news items you've read, which ones you haven't, the date, the time, the author, etc. And as I mentioned before, all of this can be organized and filtered with your reader. Lots of other web sites already offer RSS and XML technology; unfortunately, I've been delayed in implementing it on our web site because I have been busy reformatting and inter-linking all of our articles together (and getting it ready for RSS).

8. With RSS, accessing information to headlines is instantaneous. With an email newsletter, you have to wait for me to write the article, and then compile the newsletter, then send it out and hope that your Internet Service Provider's spam filter didn't eat it.

That's about it. So you see, the biggest difference of using RSS feeds instead of email newsletters is the way that the information is organized and received.

And, don't forget: you can still subscribe to our newsletter via email if you want, but RSS is much more convenient, plus, RSS is the way that technology is heading -- especially with portable devices like Palm PCs, cell phones, and similar. You don't have to use FeedDemon to read RSS (although it is by far the most popular one available).

Once the RSS implementation is complete, I will announce it in the newsletter. I am also working on other projects at the same time as the RSS implementation and it may still be a short while until RSS is ready for the masses. I hope this answers your questions (and others who have written me in the last few days).

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