With Web 2.0 we now have tools and technologies that can deliver content directly to our desktops, web browsers or mobile devices. We’ve gained familiarity with this model through the use of email, but new standards like RSS (Really Simple Syndication) allow the automatic delivery of news, events, or any kind of interesting timely information.
What is RSS?
Definitions of RSS will differ (depending on whether you speak with a business person or engineer) but it’s safe to say that RSS is regular text formatted so that it can be understood by different software applications or websites. RSS files are usually referred to as “documents” and are part of a larger family called XML (Extensible Markup Language). When RSS is applied to an information resource it is usually referred to as an “RSS Feed”.
What else is XML used for?
Other popular standards that make use of XML include WSDL (Web Service Description Language) and SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol). Combined, WSDL and SOAP work to connect software systems and Internet websites through the use of “Web Services”.
Another related Web 2.0 trend are “Mashups”. Mashups are sites based on the combination of several web services (e.g Zillow.com). Web services and Mashups are not directly related to RSS technology but deserve to be noted as they all make use of XML.
Open standards mean better choices
RSS and XML are considered to be open technology standards and are governed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Thankfully, Internet standards like RSS and XML are not owned by any specific company (e.g. Google, Microsoft), and are available for anyone to implement and use. The result is that you will find software and websites that support RSS running under Mac OS, Linux and Windows.
Tracking Blogs Through RSS
At some point someone figured out that adding an RSS feed to a blog was a great idea. With thousands of blogs being updated each day there can be a lot of content to track (imagine having 20 newspapers delivered to your home everyday). Accessing blog content through an RSS feed allows us to automatically receive the latest info whenever the publisher adds something new – almost like e-mail. To keep track of different feeds companies have built “RSS Readers” that allow you to organize your sites under one roof. Most RSS readers are freely available and can be downloaded as desktop application or are web based. The readers we like include Google Reader and NewsGator.
If you’re interested in setting up your own blog make sure your software supports RSS feeds. It will provide your audience with more options and will ultimately increase your readership.
RSS Beyond Blogging
At Joint Contact we like that RSS technology can be applied to solve many problems. Here are some neat ways companies are using RSS technology to stay in touch with their customers and increase business value.
The Seattle Networking Guide – Managing Events
The Seattle Networking guide is a site where people can find the latest information on networking events in the Seattle area. The site provides the ability for people to submit information about upcoming events, and allows users to search for content relevant to their business or industry.
In addition to seeing event information by visiting the site regularly, people have the option of accessing the event content as an RSS feed.
The Seattle Networking Guide also supports Internet Calendar (iCal) technology. iCal technology achieves the same goal as RSS but is designed work with calendaring applications. A lot can be written about iCal technology as it is also very useful. Additional information about the iCal standard can be found here.
Joint Contact – Managing Tasks
Hopefully Joint Contact does not require any introduction. For those who don’t know, Joint Contact is an online project management and collaboration solution that enables people to share and manage group information such as documents, images, tasks, contacts, notes, discussions and team information.
In this example a new task has been created called “Create Internet Calendar support for Tasks”. To the left of the main heading one can click the RSS icon to obtain an RSS feed. The users RSS feed will list all tasks assigned to them, and any tasks created by them.
In this example Joint Contact delivers the latest tasks using RSS – logging onto the website is not required. For people who specialize in project management (e.g project managers, freelancers, business owners) this saves time and keeps things organized. (Joint Contact also makes use of the iCal standard reference earlier).
Podcasting with iTunes
Apple’s iTunes (the software needed to synchronize your iPod) also makes use of RSS technology. Apple is famous for being secretive about how they develop software, but we do know their podcasting platform employs RSS technology.
Surprised? When you submit a podcast to iTunes you do so using a special XML file that is based on RSS (for those interested in publishing podcasts technical information can be found here). Using RSS, publishers define the details of their show which typcially include the podcast title, description, categories and location of multimedia files. Once uploaded, a user can “subscribe” to a podcast and the content is automatically downloaded to their computer as new content is available.
Seattle Olympic Sculpture Park
Our last example is Olympic Sculpture Park Guide hosted by the Seattle Times. This site provides a virtual walking tour of the park but also includes audio files you can download through using iTunes (hyperlinks are located on the lower left of the illustration. Click on the image below to see a full size image). Providing multimedia content as an iTunes download is another Web 2.0 trend that provides a win-win situation for content providers and their audience. We’ve seen this same technique applied to radio stations, schools, colleges and universities.