Content MarketingMobile and Tablet MarketingSocial Media & Influencer Marketing

What is RSS? What’s a Feed? What Is Content Syndication?

While human beings can view HTML, in order for software platforms to consume content, it must be in a structured, readable format for programming languages. The format that’s the standard online is called a feed. When you publish your latest posts in blog software like WordPress, a feed is automatically published as well. Your feed address is typically found just by entering the URL of the site followed by /feed/

What is RSS? What does RSS stand for?

RSS is a web-based document (typically called a feed or web feed) that is published from a source – referred to as the channel that allows users and applications to access updates to websites in a standardized, computer-readable format. The feed includes full or summarized text, and metadata, like publishing date and author’s name. RSS strips out all of the visual design elements of your site and simply publishes the textual content and other assets like images and video.

Most people believe the term RSS originally stood for Really Simple Syndication but it was Rich Site Summary… and originally RDF Site Summary.

Nowadays it’s commonly referred to as Really Simple Syndication (RSS) and the universal symbol for an RSS feed looks like this on the right. If you see that symbol on a website, it’s simply enabling you to grab that URL to enter into your feed reader if you utilize one.

RSS Feed Symbol
RSS Feed Symbol

RSS feeds are often used by news readers, feed aggregators, and other applications to keep track of updates to multiple websites. They provide a convenient way for users to stay up-to-date with their favorite websites without having to visit each site individually.

This is an old but great video explanation from Common Craft explaining how feeds work and how users can take advantage of Really Simple Syndication (RSS):

What is Content Syndication?

RSS feeds can be utilized with feed readers and can be consumed programmatically as well by other platforms. To access an RSS feed, you can use a web-based feed reader or a news reader application. Some web browsers, such as Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome, also have built-in support for RSS feeds. This method of automatically feeding your content to subscribers and platforms is known as content syndication.

Social media platforms often enable publishers to automatically post their content to their social channels. For example, I utilize FeedPress to syndicate my content to both my personal and professional social media accounts across LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Utilizing a platform like FeedPress also allows you to monitor your feed growth.

To subscribe to an RSS feed, you typically just need to click on the RSS icon or link on a website and then copy and paste the feed’s URL into your news reader.

RSS Structure and Standards

RSS is an XML-based format that consists of a series of elements and attributes that define the content of the feed. The basic structure of an RSS feed includes the following elements:

  1. <channel>: The root element of the RSS feed, which contains metadata about the feed and its contents.
  2. <title>: The title of the feed.
  3. <link>: A link to the website associated with the feed.
  4. <description>: A brief summary of the feed’s content.
  5. <item>: An individual piece of content within the feed. Each <item> element can contain a <title>, <link>, and <description> element, as well as other optional elements such as <pubDate> (the publication date of the item) and <enclosure> (a multimedia file associated with the item).

There are several versions of the RSS specification, including RSS 0.91, RSS 0.92, and RSS 2.0. The most commonly used version is RSS 2.0, which is the latest and most widely supported version of the specification.

In addition to the RSS specification, there are also several other standards and conventions that are commonly used in RSS feeds. For example, many feeds use the Dublin Core metadata standard to provide additional information about the feed and its contents. The Atom syndication format is another commonly used standard that is similar to RSS and is often used as an alternative to RSS.

PS: Don’t forget to subscribe to our RSS Feed!

Douglas Karr

Douglas Karr is the founder of the Martech Zone and a recognized expert on digital transformation. Douglas has helped start several successful MarTech startups, has assisted in the due diligence of over $5 bil in Martech acquisitions and investments, and continues to launch his own platforms and services. He's a co-founder of Highbridge, a digital transformation consulting firm. Douglas is also a published author of a Dummie's guide and a business leadership book.

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    1. Woohoo! You’ve been so patient, Christine. I tend to get more and more technical with my posts. I figured that it was time to slow down and help some folks catch up.

      When you’re a geek mired in this stuff, it’s hard to remember not everyone else knows what you’re talking about!

      One last note on RSS. Imagine stripping down this page to simply the words and pictures in the article… with all the other superfluous items removed. That’s what the post looks like in an RSS feed!

      I recommend Google Reader!

  1. One of the things of my long to-do-list was to ask Douglas to write a little explanation of what RSS actually is.

    Thanks for that pre-emptive strike, Doug. (and inspiration for a new section in my blog, too 😉 )

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