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RSS Matters To You: Here’s Why

April 21, 2009 

Mention RSS to non-techies and their eyes assume a faraway look that tells you that you’re better off changing the subject. Really Simple Syndication is seen by most people as being anything but simple. Their early experience with the little orange buttons that grace most websites has been that clicking on them resulted in a screen full of cryptic text that prompted them to quickly close the browser window and take a deep breath.

RSS is widely misunderstood. People think that its main use is by the small number of techies who have the time and expertise to consolidate all their information in feed readers. But the main audience for RSS is machines, which are increasingly incorporating RSS feeds into the information streams that power websites.

Cheeseheads

Let’s look at a silly example: Here’s a page about cheese on the popular website Alltop.com. Alltop is a huge engine of information about nearly any topic you can imagine, yet it produces no original content. All of its information consists of headlines provided as RSS feeds from the websites it indexes. Mouse over any of those headlines and you get an expanded description that tells you whether the information is of interest.

Now head on over to BlogHer, the popular site for women bloggers. Nearly everything at the top of this page comes via RSS feeds. BlogHer automatically collects the latest posts from members of its network and streams the headlines to its home page.

It’s the same at Engadget, which is one of the top 10 blogs on the Internet. Nearly the entire right side of this page is given over to content delivered in the form of RSS feeds.

So you can see that the audience for RSS feeds isn’t individuals, it’s websites. They can potentially magnify your content to reach thousands of other people. It gives you the potential to reach much larger audiences than you could with just your own small online outpost.

Personal Use

RSS also has personal productivity benefits. If you look at my own home page on the right side under the “Speaking” banner, you’ll see a list of upcoming events at which I am presenting. I don’t post this content myself; its origins are this collection of Delicious bookmarks. By inserting a small snippet of code on my home page, I can have items that I bookmark distributed automatically. To add an item, I simply bookmark it, modify the description and give it the appropriate tag. All of the websites that I own are updated instantaneously.

You can even use RSS to feed your own information needs. Look at this page of Twitter search results for the query “global warming.” Note the orange button in the upper right corner. Click it, copy the URL in the address bar and plug it into any RSS widget to display the Twitter search results on a website. Every time you refresh the page, the latest search results are added to the mix.

Nearly anything you read or publish on the Internet these days can be formatted as an RSS feed. Once it’s in that form, it can be syndicated anywhere else. That’s the real power of RSS. It gives you the means to flexibly reuse and syndicate content to reach a much wider audience with very little effort.


Developing Your Personal Brand

A new book by a veteran journalist demonstrates how much individuals can do to elevate their personal brand these days for very little money. Fans, Friends And Followers by Scott Kirsner is packed with useful information about how to create a following online and possibly quit your day job. Kirsner, who writes extensively about film for a variety of publications as well as his own CinemaTech blog, did his homework, conducting dozens of conversations with successful artists who have created enthusiastic followings and featuring their words in a section of first-person narrative interviews that make up the majority of the book. He distills their experiences into 35 pages of advice about how to maximize your search visibility, use low-cost promotional channels and distribute products cheaply. Read my review and order the book on Amazon.


Tip of the Week: Search All

When you want to run a quick search, you can usually rely on Google, Yahoo or Microsoft Live Search to satisfy your needs in seconds. But sometimes you need a search engine that can give you a more holistic view. My favorite new discovery in the category of so-called metasearch engines is Addict-o-matic, a service that aggregates search results from all the major engines as well as Twitter, YouTube, Digg, Flickr, Delicious, Wikio and other social media sites. If that isn’t enough, you can expand the results to include up to 25 destinations. Find out what people are really saying about you.


Just for Fun

Maybe it’s because all of us have been misjudged at some point in our lives, maybe it’s just because this video is a good reminder of the old adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but Susan Boyle is definitely hitting a positive nerve with the YouTube crowd. Check out the video that’s taken the world by storm this past week.

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