What is RSS? A Really Simple Summary of RSS Feeds

What is RSS? It's Easier Than You Think!

Many people are bewildered by RSS - what RSS is, how it works and why they should use it.

I must admit that I was one of those people for a long, long time. I consider myself an experienced user of computers and the Internet - I got my first computer in 1982, and I was using the Internet before it had pictures - but for the longest time, the whole RSS concept just would not gel in my brain. Eventually, with the help of other HubPages writers, I was able to wrap my head around it, and you can, too!

So sit back and relax - it's not hard to understand, and I'll try to explain it as simply as I can.

"RSS" stands for "Really Simple Syndication", and the name is apt - it's Really Simple! So here is a "Really Simple Summary" to help you learn what RSS is and why you should be using it!

This is the RSS icon - whenever you see it, you know that an RSS Feed is available for that web site...
This is the RSS icon - whenever you see it, you know that an RSS Feed is available for that web site...

What is RSS?

Let's start with the easy stuff!

In a nutshell, RSS is a protocol that makes it simple to broadcast, or "syndicate", content on the Web.

Basically, "RSS feeds" are streams of data which are automatically updated and transmitted whenever new content is published on a website.

  • So, if you are the Wall Street Journal, you can provide an RSS Feed to your readers that will be refreshed every time a new article is published
  • If you are a Wordpress blogger, you can provide an RSS Feed that gets updated whenever you add a new blog post
  • If you are a writer at HubPages, you already have an RSS Feed that is updated each time you publish a new hub!

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How Does It Work?

Luckily, we don't really need to know how RSS works to use RSS!

Behind the scenes, there are XML standards and formatting criteria and all sorts of other techno-babble that make RSS work. But you don't need to know any of that stuff to use RSS effectively. You may not understand the mechanics behind the internal combustion engine, but that doesn't mean you can't drive a car!

The same principle holds true for RSS - here's what you do need to know:

  • RSS Feeds are updated automatically by the online publishing software that you use - that can be WordPress, Blogger, HubPages or most any other modern publishing venue on the Web
  • Somewhere on the web page - often in the address bar - you will see an orange icon with with curved lines. Look in the address bar of this page for an example. That's the RSS link for this hub, and clicking it will display an RSS page from which you can subscribe to the RSS Feed for this page
  • There are multiple "flavors" of RSS - like Atom and RDF - but that's mostly invisible to you as an end user, so don't sweat it!
  • The items listed in an RSS Feed are simply links to the original information - this becomes important later when we discuss using RSS Feeds to promote your site

Adding an RSS Feed to a HubPage or other Wed Page

For HubPages users, there is a handy RSS Capsule available. By adding it to your hubs, you have an automatic means of linking to your other hubs.

I always include one at the end of each of my hubs, right after the last Text Capsule and before the Comments Capsule. That way my readers can easily jump to another of my hubs easily. The RSS Feeds can even be customized by using tags, but that's another article!

On HubPages, we each have three RSS Feeds provided by default - "latest", "hot" and "best".

  • The "latest" feed features your ten most recently published hubs
  • The "hot" feed features the ten most-visited hubs
  • The "best" feed includes your ten highest-scoring hubs.

Your RSS Feed can be accessed from your Profile, or from any of your published hubs - look below your avatar for the link that reads "Subscribe to (your username)'s RSS Feed".

Decoding The RSS Feed URL

A quick look at the URL of a HubPages RSS Feed is now in order!

For example, mine is:

http://hubpages.com/author/Edweirdo/latest/?rss


  • The "author/Edweirdo" part indicates that this is the RSS Feed of the author Edweirdo
  • "/latest" shows which of the three Feeds it is
  • "/?rss" tells your web browser that it should handle the page as an RSS Feed and not as a standard web page.

You can manipulate that URL to choose which feed to use in an RSS Capsule on HubPages, or in the equivalent on another publishing platform like Blogger or Wordpress. Just change the word "latest" to "best" or "hot" and you're done!

An RSS Feed in Action!

As an example, let's walk through adding an RSS Capsule to a hub. The basic ideas here will work on any other platform, from Wordpess to Blogger to any other modern Internet authoring software.

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  1. Go to your Profile page (or one of your published hubs) and find the RSS Subscribe link. Right click the link and "Copy link location"
  2. Add an RSS Capsule in the desired location on your hub using the "Add" tool
  3. Give the RSS Capsule a Title
  4. Paste the copied link into the Feed URL bar
  5. Edit the pasted URL to choose the Feed you want to use - "latest", "best" or "hot"
  6. Choose how many items to show, and which display method you prefer
  7. Preview the RSS Feed to make sure it works
  8. Click "save" and marvel at your handiwork!

You can place an RSS Feed anywhere you like within a hub, and on sites like Wordpress and Blogger it is most often placed along the right-hand side of the page.

Go Beyond Your Own RSS Feed

You aren't limited to using just your HubPages RSS Feed - you can use any RSS Feed you want to on a hub or other web page.

You could add a Yahoo! News RSS Feed:

URL=http://rss.news.yahoo.com/rss/topstories

Or an Amazon product RSS Feed with your Amazon Affiliate ID:

URL=http://www.amazon.com/rss/bestsellers/dvd?tag=yourAffiliateID

How about a "Quote Of The Day":

URL=http://feeds.feedburner.com/quotationspage/qotd

Or ESPN Sports Headlines:

URL=http://sports-ak.espn.go.com/espn/rss/news

Why Should I Use RSS?

There are two sides to every RSS Feed - the reader's side and the publisher's side.

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The Reader


As a reader, you may want to use RSS Feeds to keep up to date on the latest news from a site like BBC News, or maybe you want to follow a favorite blogger. Whatever the case may be, you would use some sort of "RSS Reader" program, like Live Bookmarks or Google Reader.

For example, if you click the "Subscribe to Edweirdo's RSS Feed" icon on this page, you will be shown a screen that asks which RSS Reader you would like to use to subscribe to the RSS Feed for this page. If you use Firefox, you'll see a dropdown box at the top of the page that lists Live Bookmarks, My Yahoo, Google and BlogLines.

Live Bookmarks is the built-in RSS Reader for the Firefox browser. When you subscribe to a feed using Live Bookmarks, an icon appears in your Bookmarks Toolbar, and clicking on it will show links to the most recent content for that feed.

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RSS in Plain English

If you have a Google or Yahoo account, you can use your account on those sites to grab RSS Feeds and add them to your account homepage.

You can also install separate software that is dedicated to reading RSS Feeds, like NewzCrawler or FeedDemon.

However you do it, subscribing to the RSS Feeds of frequently visited web sites means that you don't have to constantly visit those sites to find out what's new - instead, you go to your RSS Reader and there are all of the latest updates consolidated into one spot.

That's where the "syndication" in "Really Simple Syndication" comes into play - it's like creating your own custom online newspaper that contains only the information that you care about!

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The Publisher


As a publisher, RSS Feeds provide you with a means of keeping your readers up to date, but they also a powerful tool for spreading your content across the Web and promoting your web site with RSS Feeds.

Whether you're a blogger, a business owner, a writer on HubPages or any other web content provider, you can use an RSS Feed to your benefit!

If you have a HubPages account and a blog, you can use the RSS Feeds of each on the other. So add your HubPages Feed to your Blogger blog, and your Blogger Feed to your hubs. Just be aware that the links in your RSS Capsules are taken into account when HubPages looks for overly promotional hubs, as described on this Help page. So don't go adding ten RSS capsules to all of your hubs! Use them with discretion, and keep them relevant to your content, just like any other link.

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One of the most basic principles of SEO ("Search Engine Optimization") is the backlink. There is far too much information about what backlinks are and why they are important (or not), so I won't go into all of that here! Instead, I'll just assume that you know what they are and that you want to create some for your own Web pages. One of the easiest and most effective ways to create always up-to-date, automatically generated backlinks is with an RSS Feed!

Simply put, each entry in an RSS Feed is a link to your content. This makes it handy for fans of your writing to keep up with your published content, and it also offers you an SEO opportunity. You may already use sites like RedGage or SheToldMe or Xomba to create backlinks to your work on HubPages or your blog. There also sites out there, called "RSS Aggregators" or "RSS Submission Sites", that will accept your RSS Feed and transmit it for you. That means adding your Feed to all the other Feeds in their system, and then having those Feeds distributed across the Internet as backlinks. And once you submit a Feed, you're done - it's automatically updated each time you publish, so it's a "set it and forget it" scenario.

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One word of caution, here - DO NOT SPAM! Whether you mean to or not, it can be very easy to become a spammer when you start submitting your RSS Feeds to these sites.

Be selective, and use these services in moderation. Try and limit your submissions to relevant sites - if you go out there and submit your RSS Feed to every known aggregation site, Google and the other Search Engines just may decide that you are spamming the Web, and they will NOT give your Feeds any backlink love!

This is just like every other form of self-promotion online - there's a "right" way and a "wrong" way to go about things, and if you already backlink then you (hopefully) know the difference. Use the same common sense and restraint that you do in your other backlinking efforts and you should be fine.

Take the Poll !

Do you have a better understanding of RSS after reading this hub?

See results without voting
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Use Custom RSS Feeds to Promote Your Hubs

Now that you know what RSS is and how to use it, you might consider creating custom RSS Feeds for your hubs. Learn how to use tags on your hubs to create custom RSS Feeds!

All Text Copyright The Author. © 2010, All Rights Reserved.

All Images in the Public Domain from http://www.openclipart.org and http://commons.wikimedia.org

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Comments 58 comments

Megavitamin profile image

Megavitamin 6 years ago

You are always super helpful! I never understood RSS feeds before reading this. Thanks for sharing your great wisdom :0)


Edweirdo profile image

Edweirdo 6 years ago from United States Author

@Megavitamin - Glad to help! This stuff confused me for ages, but it really is pretty straight-forward ;)


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

Thank you for such a helpful and explicit hub. I have to read it again to take in all the information. There is so much of it. That RSS is bugging me for months. I really must get it now with the help of your hub.


hospitalera profile image

hospitalera 6 years ago

Excellent hub, Edweirdo! I would give you ten awesomes if I could ;-) I took already a note out of your book and added the 'Quote a Day' feed to my hub which is, not surprisingly, about quotations! Have you ever looked into Yahoo Pipes? I managed to change my custom feed now so that it shows the 'coldest' hub on top and not the hottest. This way, if a hub gets warmer, it sinks to the bottom and if it gets colder, it rises again. Quite handy to keep the Google bot on its toes ;-) SY


Raghavzx profile image

Raghavzx 6 years ago

You are the best explainer

Thanks for writing it.


CYBERSUPE profile image

CYBERSUPE 6 years ago from MALVERN, PENNSYLVANIA, U.S.A.

I HAVE THIS Hub bookmarked for further study. I am as confused as ever about RSS feeds. I am sure this Hub will help.

Thank You Edweirdo,

Joe


Edweirdo profile image

Edweirdo 6 years ago from United States Author

Thanks everyone for the kind words - I'm glad this hub helped you learn more about RSS!

@hospitalera - I've played around with Yahoo Pipes, and it looks promising. I find it's easier to use tags to accomplish a similar effect, but that's a manual process that has to be tweaked over time.

Pipes might be worth another look, though...


Lily Rose profile image

Lily Rose 6 years ago from East Coast

I only was able to wrap my head around RSS after reading your hub about creating customs feeds using tags a few months ago. Since then I have been using one or two RSS capsules to highlight my latest hubs and/or specific related hubs in all of my hubs.

I never quite understood other ways of using it, though, until now. It really made perfect sense when you said it's like creating your own custom newspaper. I did not know that I could put any feed in a hub - I'm going to try and figure out how to add the RSS in my blog and then use it in a hub or two now. Thanks so much for this extremely well written hub!


Edweirdo profile image

Edweirdo 6 years ago from United States Author

@Lily Rose - Happy to help! Good luck promoting your blog with RSS!


agusfanani profile image

agusfanani 6 years ago from Indonesia

You've helped me understand something I hadn't understood for a long time. Thank you.


Scribenet profile image

Scribenet 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

Thank you...this was one feature I had not used and your explanation has helped me add RSS feed to several Hubs and I will add it eventually to each Hub as I write them. Thanks for the great help!


Wooded 6 years ago

This was very well written and easy to understand. I never realized how much there was to RSS - I certainly didn't know it could be helpful to me at all! I appreciate this hub, thank you!


diyakapoor profile image

diyakapoor 6 years ago

Really great information. I was totally unaware of the facts about RSS that you have mentioned in your post. I have bookmarked your post for future. thanks for sharing such a nice post.


WildIris 6 years ago

I feel like such a dumb bunny when it comes to this subject. RSS what's that??? Thanks for explaining RSS in plain English. Very helpful. Awesome and rated up!


debed profile image

debed 6 years ago from Ireland

Great Hub. I was also very confused when it came to RSS feeds. Very well explained and easy to understand. Thanks for the information


SUSIE405 profile image

SUSIE405 6 years ago from Delray Beach, Florida

good hub, I have been wondering what RSS was. This really helped.


puebloman profile image

puebloman 6 years ago from Andalucia, Spain

Brilliant. Voted up. Will now read it all again.


mysterylady 89 profile image

mysterylady 89 6 years ago from Florida

Thank you for an informative, well written hub. I plan to give RSS a try.


Sarah Masson profile image

Sarah Masson 6 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

Thankyou for your information :)


KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

KoffeeKlatch Gals 6 years ago from Sunny Florida

Wow, it's all becoming much clearer. How did you do that. You have a way with words. Thanks.


Kerry43 6 years ago

This is an excellent guide, thank you. I actually read an article yesterday by a lady who learned this from you.

Have a good one:)

Kez


Beach Bum Bhudda profile image

Beach Bum Bhudda 6 years ago from Maui, Hawaii

Wow, that's amazing how you can convey technological info. I did't fully understand what a RSS feed was. Now, I have more of an idea! Thanks for putting your knowledge into layman terms. Keep up the terrific writing.


J Sunhawk profile image

J Sunhawk 6 years ago from South Carolina

Tackling RSS was on my "to do" list, and your well written explanation gives me reason to put it off no longer. RSS gets launched tomorrow!


GmaGoldie profile image

GmaGoldie 5 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

Edwierdo,

I have read this now 5 times and I think I finally have it! This is terrific! Hard for the non-technical person but you broke it down wonderfully.

One question which is probably self-evident somewhere so forgive me IF I missed it - is there a reason by the www is never in a RSS feed?

Thank you!


Edweirdo profile image

Edweirdo 5 years ago from United States Author

@GmaGoldie - If you're referring to the lack of "www" in a HubPages RSS feed, it's only because HubPages doesn't use the "www" in their web addresses! Just have a look at this page - there's no "www" in the address on any HubPages page. Whether the "www" is used in a URL is at the discretion of the folks who run each website...

Adding the "www" makes no difference for HubPages - it will work either way!


thedutchman profile image

thedutchman 5 years ago

very helpful hub. always wondered what rss is and how it works. learned a thing here. Thanks!


M A Williams profile image

M A Williams 5 years ago from New Hampshire

Very helpful. Thanks


buzzbucks profile image

buzzbucks 5 years ago from India

Hi Edweirdo,

First my Heartful Thanks to you for creating a very informative hub.Your hub is very useful for everyone.

When i came to know Importance of RSS, i am searching for it.But my luck i found your Hub with great information in detail.

I also bookmarked your Hub.

All the best of Luck Edweirdo for more New Hubs.


Docmo profile image

Docmo 5 years ago from UK

This is very helpful,Thanks. Learnt a lot from reading this hub!


Dr irum profile image

Dr irum 5 years ago

Great information especially for newbies.


WildIris 5 years ago

Thanks for demystifying the RSS Feed for me.


Brie Hoffman profile image

Brie Hoffman 5 years ago from Manhattan

Lots of comments on this hub! Thanks for the great article...I have been awakened to RSS feeds finally! Nice to meet you at hubcamp!


Edweirdo profile image

Edweirdo 5 years ago from United States Author

Thanks Brie - I'm glad you learned a bit more about what RSS is!

HubCamp was a good time, and I recommend it to any other Hubbers who have the opportunity to attend one :D


harrison8bal profile image

harrison8bal 5 years ago from Shanghai

Thanks for the information I never understood all this RSS thing, it was so confusing :/


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

Voted up & useful. Thanks for easy-to-understand information on this often confusing topic. Bookmarked as well!


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

Really Simple for some; more challenging for the rest of us. Good explanation, though. Bookmarked!


txgal profile image

txgal 5 years ago from Texas

Thank you. Now I know what an RSS is. Easy enough.


Max_Power profile image

Max_Power 5 years ago from Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia.

Hey Edweirdo,

Looks like I don't have to tell you how good this was, judging by all of the comments!

But I will anyway :)

That was easily the best explanation of RSS that I have seen.

Thanks heaps!


DaveysRecipeRead profile image

DaveysRecipeRead 5 years ago

A truly fantastic Hub!


laral profile image

laral 5 years ago from England

Thank you very much. I found this hub really very useful but I tried to apply to one of my hub and it doesn't work.

But thank you again for posting these important information.


Maggie.L profile image

Maggie.L 5 years ago from UK

Thank you for writing such an informative hub. I'm new to hubpages so still finding my feet and this information is very helpful for the less technical minded - like myself.


Jean Bakula profile image

Jean Bakula 5 years ago from New Jersey

Hi Edweirdo,

I wrote to Wilderness to get some advice to learn how to work an rss feed. The forum people on HP assume they are speaking to people who are much more computer literate than we really are! I was able to put rss feeds on a few hubs with his help. But then I had 10 related hubs I was trying to use the "tag" option, and no matter what I tried I couldn't do it. Then today I did, I linked hubs on 10 Greek Goddesses. I know, odd topic, I thought maybe it would garner me some attention for the April contest, but alas, no. Thanks for the great instructions that even I could understand!


vox vocis profile image

vox vocis 5 years ago

Edweirdo, you obviously know a lot about RSS feeds and I bookmarked all of your RSS feed related hubs to study them slowly and learn as much as I can. I would really appreciate it if you could answer a couple of questions for me :)

I have an RSS feed URL on another site and when I copy and paste it into my browser I get a page listing not only the titles and descriptions of my articles, but the whole articles with images and all :( Why is that so?

I wanted to learn how to make my own RSS subscription box and add it to my profile on another web 2.0 site, but I have no idea what people would recieve in their emails if they decided to subscribe.

Is it too complicated?


Edweirdo profile image

Edweirdo 5 years ago from United States Author

@vox vocis

Q1 - I'm just guessing, but I would assume that there is a configuration option somewhere on that site that can be set to show summaries or full text in the RSS feed (in Wordpress this is under Settings->Reading)

Q2 - How complicated it is depends on the site! The best way to test the feed on another site is to just do it - subscribe to your own feed and see what happens...


vox vocis profile image

vox vocis 5 years ago

Unfortunately, the site is still new and the owner doesn't know much about RSS feeds. There must be something wrong in the XML source. Anyway, I signed up for Feedburner and later subscribed to my own RSS feed; to my disappointment I'm not getting email notifications when I publish something new :( I have no idea why (I checked whether it was a valid feed) :(


mary615 profile image

mary615 4 years ago from Florida

Thanks so much for this info. I voted it UP,etc.etc. I've also bookmarked it for future reading. I've never understood this RSS thing, maybe now I will.


parentsreview profile image

parentsreview 4 years ago from Lansdowne, PA

This is great! I come to this screen every hub I publish to get the rss url pattern. Thanks.


megni profile image

megni 4 years ago

Thanks, Thanks and Thanks, After I gobbled up your very valuable information, I startes to leave. Then thought the answer to my puzzling question had been answered and I should say thank you to the RSS wizard. Thanks.


sergs_pogi profile image

sergs_pogi 4 years ago

Just the thing! I recently visited the forum and posted a question asking someone to give me a simpler explanation of an RSS feed. Sofs directed me here. I found the right place! Thanks, buddy. Now RSS feed is much clearer that it was before.


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 4 years ago from Georgia

I have to print this out so that I can follow the steps to using the RSS feed. I've never felt confident about using. Now I can. I wish I had run across this earlier. Thank you for all the information.


Liz El profile image

Liz El 4 years ago from Everett, WA

This was helpful information - I have always avoided RSS feeds on my fave sites because I didn't understand them. Thanks!


Melis Ann profile image

Melis Ann 4 years ago from Mom On A Health Hunt

I have not used RSS feeds at all. I appreciate the basic, step-by-step instructions for getting started. Thanks and SHARED!


the girls profile image

the girls 4 years ago from Los Angeles, California

Bookmarked! I'll post my question (hopefully not)as soon as I start working on my RSS feeds. Hope i'll make it in one try :-)

ps: where is your bookmark tag at again? thanks


somethgblue profile image

somethgblue 4 years ago from Shelbyville, Tennessee

Sorry I must be braindead how does linking my hubs in a RSS feed to my other hubs improve my readership I can do that in with a link capsule?

Can I go to Red Gage of Digg or some other site and just plop down my RSS?

Explain to me how it generates more readers, why would i want Yahoo's top stories on my hub page, I would want it the other way around I would want my hub articles on Yahoos website?

I don't get it?


Deepunetfish 4 years ago

Great useful hub. I was confused with RSS for years, thanks for making it simple like tasting an ice cream. Decided to follow you and read more hubs of yours.

voted up


William Gerace profile image

William Gerace 4 years ago from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

I love this Hub. Though I'm still a little confused with it I'm printing this up so I can read it again and apply to my Hubs. Thanks again. Great Hub.


mary615 profile image

mary615 4 years ago from Florida

I have never understood RSS. Thanks for all this info. I'll work on it now. I'll print this out since our bookmarks will soon be gone. I voted this UP,etc.


MarleneB profile image

MarleneB 4 years ago from Northern California, USA

Lots of information! All of it is extremely helpful. RSS Feeds is finally getting into my head as a concept I can get a hold of and apply with ease. Thank you for sharing this valuable information.

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