Why I love RSS close

Mark McDermott
Mark McDermott
In Codegent College
21st March 2013
Why I love RSS

I bloody love RSS. There I said it. More hardcore geeks than I will scoff at this statement but time and again RSS proves to be the simplest answer to a tricky tech question.

What is RSS?

Rich Site Summary (often dubbed Really Simple Syndication) is a family of web feed formats used to publish frequently updated works such as blog entries, news headlines, audio, and video in a standardized format. - Wikipedia

Effectively RSS is an XML format for you to publish content in a truly standardised way. It ballooned in popularity during the rise of the blogosphere from around 2004. Brilliantly since then it has remained virtually unchanged. Code written years ago still works, unlike many APIs (hello facebook!) that change all the time and break your app.

It can't be shut down, it can't force presentation on you or limit your usage. It is open, like the essence of the web. You actually use RSS even if you don't realise it. If you subscribe to any podcasts, you use RSS. Flipboard and Twitter are RSS readers, amongst other things. There are feeds for just about everything. From tiny blogs to major news outlets. From train delays to weather updates. There's an RSS feed for that!

Sounds great, what's the downside?

RSS is nuts and bolts. It isn't complex but it is still considered techie to the average internet user. The primary use case for it is for people to stay up to date with their favourite news and blog outlets via RSS Readers. However they never really took off in a mainstream way. People just didn't get it or want it that much despite the fact the functionality was built into every email application or personalised homepage. Google Reader was the dominant tool and last week the app was deprecated as a Google feature. The tech community backlashed but obviously Google did it as they felt RSS readers were no longer relevant and that we are now all consuming our news data through Google+ ;)

Reasons to be cheerful

Building your product on top of RSS ensures a massive reduction in coding time and huge opportunity. At the moment we are all obsessed with integration via APIs and, although immensely powerful, they are yet to become fully standardised and require much more work to play nicely with your app.

If you ask any developer worth his salt to take an RSS feed and use it in some way you will be up and running in minutes. At the very least because there are hundreds of libraries out there but also because xml parsing is baked into most programming languages as a function.

Cool ways to use RSS

Virtually anything can be turned into an RSS format. You will no doubt see the familiar icon next to any blog or news article but the format is far more versatile than that. I've used it to publish sports scores, list product inventory, push events... the list goes on. Here are some of my favourite ways to use RSS.

  • Dlvr.it - This is one of my favourite web apps, and it is free! The app takes your feed and automatically distributes it to all of your social networks. So all you have to worry about is publishing your content. Dlvr.it takes care of the rest. We use this a lot on codegent's facebook and loads of our clients.
  • Feedburner - A bit of a classic but still very handy. Google bought these guys years ago and never really changed it. However, for free, feedburner will allow your users to subscribe to your content via email. As you publish they are emailed the content on either a daily or weekly basis (if there is something new). Email marketing for free, and easy.
  • Mailchimp et al - Taking feedburner up a notch the major email marketing platforms have all got RSS to email functions. Our kids app brand Kizzu has an RSS feed of apps we publish that auto emails our subscriber base a formatted html email launching the new title. It helps us get those initial downloads and rise up the charts!

It isn't new, it isn't sexy but it is the most reliable part of the internet in my view. Try it, you might just like it.