Untangle the World Wide Web with RSS

By : |December 30, 2006 0

NEW YORK- "RSS" is one of the coolest things you’ve never heard of when it comes to the Internet.

Short for "Really Simple Syndication," a name that seems designed to induce maximum eye glazing, RSS is in fact one of the best time-savers online. And it’s getting easier to use.

RSS is a way for Web surfers to keep up with the latest news or catch hot deals on travel packages, concert tickets and nearly anything else people use the Internet to buy.

Instead of typing in 20 different Web site addresses every time you want to see what’s new on washingtonpost.com, craigslist.org or your cousin’s blog, just get "RSS feeds." Every time a page updates, you get an alert.

Media blogger Jeff Jarvis is one of the converted.

"I don’t use bookmarks at all, ever," said Jarvis, who offers RSS as a way to read his blog at Buzzmachine.com. "If a site doesn’t have RSS, I find it a great irritant."

RSS comes in handy in a variety of everyday situations, said Forrester analyst Charlene Li.

"I’m currently looking for tickets for [the musical] The Jersey Boys," she said. "And it’s completely sold out. But every once in a while something shows up on Craigslist."

Instead of constantly checking Craigslist, Li sets up an RSS feed searching for four tickets, and if someone posts an ad for tickets, the feed will alert her.


So, why are so few people using it?

Only 2 percent of online consumers bother, according to Forrester, and more than half of that group is 40 years old or younger.

For starters, the name is deadly for attracting "average" Internet users — people who use the Web and handle e-mail, but quail at inscrutabilities like "service-oriented architecture" and "robust enterprise solutions."

Then there are the orange buttons you find on Web pages. Clicking one produces a jumble of computer codes. It’s hardly the path to popularity.

"RSS is a horrible name," said Li. "And those little orange buttons don’t do anybody any favors."

People often do not realize that the computer code is useless. What they must do is copy the Web address in their browser, and insert it into their RSS reader. The lack of clear instructions on many Web sites dooms the service to obscurity.

Some of the top U.S. news Web sites are changing that, including The New York Times site.

The site’s managers plan to offer readers feeds dedicated to topics, reporters and columnists sometime in the first half of 2007, but in an easier way.

"Once we start doing that, you won’t get that very geeky screen," said Robert Larson, nytimes.com’s vice president of product management and development.

"It should be incredibly easy for anybody, no matter what their technical level, to click a button and add a feed to their MyTimes page," he said.

Washingtonpost.com is sprucing up its RSS system for sometime in early 2007, said Ann Marchand Thompson, the site’s editor for discussions, e-mail and RSS.

"We want to let people sign up for the news that they want to receive without having to feel like they need a technical background to do it," she said. "They don’t need to know the code behind it."

Getting RSS going on your computer is also simpler today. The two easiest ways are using newer version of the Internet Explorer and Firefox browsers, which contain RSS readers.

Yahoo and Google also offer easy-to-use RSS options. Specialized RSS readers like Bloglines and Newsgator are slightly more sophisticated and take a little more experimentation, but are tough to put down once you get the hang of them.

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