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Decoding RSS

Besides culling information, RSS allows businesses to broadcast it without being blocked by spam filters.
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Admittedly, spam is a serious problem for corporate and consumer users alike, but junk e-mail filters are crippling corporate communications. Studies show that up to 38 percent of all corporate e-mails, including messages customers have requested, are not reaching the intended recipient.

There is an alternative: RSS -- Really Simple Syndication, or Rich Site Summary -- is a mysterious-sounding acronym, but it's probably something you are already using. If you have a MyYahoo or customized Google page, you have already used RSS to add headlines to your page. The feed from the sites that provide those headlines is called RSS.

Usually is thought of as a means for culling useful information from the cacophony of noise on the Internet, such as on MyYahoo, RSS also broadcasts business information to those who want it, without having to clear any spam blockers or e-mail filters.

“Because RSS is a 100 percent opt-in medium, end-users WANT to receive this content,” says Charles Smith, CEO of RSS marketing company Pheedo, of Emeryville, Calif. “The readership and interest in content delivered by businesses through this medium is very high.”

RSS feeds announce website changes

RSS channels, or “feeds,” provide notifications about updates or changes to a particular website. The technology first came into widespread use among bloggers, who wanted to notify readers about changes to their web logs without having to organize and maintain a list of e-mail addresses. RSS aggregators, or “readers,” were developed to access feeds automatically, saving the user the hassle of having to check websites constantly for updates or changes.

An RSS feed is an XML -- or Extended Markup Language -- file that refers back to the actual data file where the information is stored. There are two typical parts in an RSS file. The file header contains metadata, things like a headline or brief description of the data file that is linked to the RSS feed. The actual news item itself can be transmitted in its entirety to the user’s RSS reader, or it can be summarized and linked to a longer version back at the host website.

Readers, which essentially are just Web browsers for RSS content, come in a variety of configurations. Some are designed to pull feeds directly inside an e-mail client, such as Microsoft Outlook. Others pull the feeds directly into the user’s Web browser or they can be accessed through a Web browser, but don’t download any information to the user’s computer. There are also stand-alone reader applications that send instant notifications to the user when a new piece of information comes in. Among the more popular readers are SharpReader, FeedDemon, Bloglines, NewsGator and MyYahoo.

Any website can offer RSS syndication

Any website can offer an RSS channel. Simply create an XML file and link it to an RSS icon -- they look like little chicklets and that have been popping up on sites all over the web.  Visitors to your website then can copy and paste the address of your channel and add it to their RSS reader.

Keep in mind, of course, that subscribers seek out sites that are worth their time. “The tools are cheap, to free. That’s not the gating factor,” says Carl Agers, vice president of client services and strategy at Decision Counsel, a San Ramon, Calif. strategic marketing company. “The main question you need to ask up front is, what’s going to drive the RSS feed?”

There are myriad advantages to offering an RSS feed. Besides doing an end-run around spam blockers and e-mail filters, RSS readers put your latest news directly in front of the customers who specifically have requested it. Customers benefit by not having to hand over personal information about themselves just to get access to company news, and the website’s sponsor can be sure that subscribers truly are interested in the feed.

Perhaps most importantly, an RSS channel lets other sites easily “host” your company’s news, and you can use the feeds from other sites to keep your site updated. Industry-related websites that pick up your company’s feed can help spread the word about your products or services.

Last updated: Oct 1, 2006




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