Should You Say Yes to RSS?

Nov 11 22:00 2004 John Calder Print This Article

© 2004, John ... seen the posts on all the ... forums - what is RSS? Should I be using it? What can it do for me? Let's take a look at some basics of RSS, which s

© 2004,Guest Posting John Calder

You've seen the posts on all the marketing forums - what is RSS? Should I be using it? What can it do for me? Let's take a look at some basics of RSS, which stands for, alternatively, Really Simple Syndication, Rich Site Summary, or RDF Site Summary (Rich Document Format Site Summary). Whatever term used, they all mean the same thing.

RSS is used to easily and automatically allow information from one web site to be displayed either in a newsreader, or on another web site. A newsreader is a piece of software that resides on your home computer, and that is programmed to display RSS formatted data, known as feeds, in a format that is easy for humans to read. Other software, including some popular web page generation programs, can display RSS feeds on the pages of another web site. Either way, the feeds are usually updated automatically whenever the content on the originating site is updated.

RSS is nothing more than a standard way of formatting data - for example, the content of your web page or blog - in a certain way. Formatting is done according to a certain accepted standard or specification. For example, there is general agreement as to the formatting of RSS .91, RSS 2.0, and so on. (Yes, there are unfortunately several versions of what standard means). RSS is the name of the standard for formatting, but the language used is XML - Extensible Markup Language. XML is a superset of HTML, and is very commonly used for exchanging data between computer systems.

Data formatted as RSS may be stored in a static file, just like an HTML page. But more often, the formatting is generated by a program when requested. For example, you may make blog entries that are stored into a database on your server. When a human visitor comes to your site, your entries are retrieved from the database and displayed in the form of a web page, using HTML. But when a newsreader or remote web site wants to access your RSS feed, the same entries from the same database are retrieved, but they are displayed in RSS format, using XML.

The basic idea behind the technology then is fairly simple - it's a way to share information. And you don't really need to worry about the strange appearance of RSS formatted data - the software that creates the RSS feed on one end and the software that displays it on the other end take care of that. For marketers, the real issue is whether they embrace the technology now, later, or never.

Marketers are only human, and they, like their customers, want to know "What's in it for me?". Realistically, there is little if any downside to using or offering RSS. There may be some initial cost to buy and install the blog or content management software that will generate RSS feeds, although there are many open source packages available. Some hosting companies feature Fantastico, which offers one-click installation of many popular software packages, including blogs and content management systems.

If you get newsreader software, much of which is also free, you can use it to keep up with your favorite marketing related blogs all from one location. Offering RSS feeds from your own site or blog may be of much bigger benefit though. For your readers and customers who add your RSS feed to their newsreader, you have a chance of your material being read every time you publish it, thereby creating a followup relationship marketing situation. Compare this to falling email delivery and open rates. Finally, if other marketers add your feed to their site, you get a one-way, inbound link! Even if the other site is of dubious quality, a link is a link - enjoy it while it lasts!

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John Calder
John Calder

John Calder is the owner/editor of The Ezine Dot Net.
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