The Down and Dirty about RSS (from March 2006)

Back when I first discovered RSS and really threw myself into all of this Web 2.0 nonsense I started blogging my math classes. My math class blogs started a domino effect at the school where I taught, Carolina Friends School - a technology domino effect. Ian Jukes would say that it was the "committed sardine" effect. Things got so big and so cool that I teamed with a colleague and started offering tech sessions for staff members in other units and eventually we took our knowledge on the road! This led to an article in Middle Ground, one of the publications of the National Middle School Association, in their most recent issue. (You'll have to hunt down a middle school teacher and borrow their August 2009 issue, turn to page 32 and you'll find it: "Going Blog Wild". Or you can look at the title page on the link above.) Of course now my original blogs are no longer active since I'm no longer in the classroom.

But way back when I first started (back in March 2006) I wrote up a piece explaining RSS to parents. I went digging through my external backup hard drive to find it for one of my graduate classes, so I thought I'd share. This piece is what started my blogging movement! Enjoy.

RSS: The Nitty-Gritty, The Down-n-Dirty, The... You get the picture

Let's think about RSS in terms of something that is pretty regular and concrete in our minds. Think of a newspaper; maybe the New York Times. You might have checked their website ( http://www.nytimes.com ) multiple times a day to keep up to speed with what is happening in the country or world. The fact that we don't have to run out to find a paper boy or a newspaper stand and struggle with correct change already makes it pretty cool that we can access the news online through their website. Oh oh oh--but it can get better!

Enter RSS. What many websites and web developers/designers have started to do is embed bits of code that updates itself everytime a particular website is updated. This, in turn, enables a separate program to check the website for you, and in a matter of seconds give you the headlines and a brief description of the article--without you ever having to open a browser or type a thing. If you want to read the full article, all you have to do is click on the title and poof!... your browser of choice will open up to the article.

Let me talk about this "code" for a second. There is a language that web developers use to make website and webpages look like the way they do. This is called HTML. If you go to View >> Source in any browser, you can see the "guts" behind any website you open and view.

A new coding language has just become popular in the past few months and years called XML. This new language gives power to RSS (which, currently, is most often understood as standing for Really Simple Syndication). Think of RSS as the vehicle and XML as the fuel you put in the vehicle that makes it run.

So What's the Big Deal?

So, you may be asking, what does this have to do with me? Well, if you only check one website a day for your news and that is all you use the internet for, then this probably won't change your life much.

But, if you constantly and consistently check the New York Times, Yahoo News, Google News, NPR, E-Bay, and Apple.com--that's a lot of surfing! And now with this new technology, a lot of wasted time and energy!

Another reason this is a big deal is that I believe it will help further communication between school and home. The ease with which you can check your news and your favorite websites can now be the ease of checking in on what you did (or what your child did) at school today--all in a matter of seconds. I'm able to do this through using a blog. What's a blog? Keep reading!!

Blogging

As an avid reader, a lover of writing and student/researcher of communication, blogging fascinates me. A blog is akin to the old bulletin board idea from the beginning of the internet. A blog is simply a site that is easily updated by a person (or persons) who writes on any topic that he/she/they want. These folks are commonly referred to as bloggers.

You may have heard the term citizen journalist being thrown around on NPR or the evening news. Literally, everyday citizens can open a free account and start typing on any topic under the sun: education, politics, cooking, travel, the war in Iraq. The sky's the limit!

The very, very, very cool part about blogging is that it takes the usability that is inherent in its nature (simple to get one, easy to update, anyone can write on anything) and merges it with RSS and XML.

So, imagine once again that I have my program up that checks my New York Times headlines for me. (By the way, these programs are called aggregators.) Let's also say that I read a daily blog about... oh, I don't know... fly fishing. Well--hold on to your hats!--all I have to do is click on the XML (or RSS) logo on that person's website and boom! it is automatically added to my aggregator. Now everytime I open the program (and even while I have it open and running) it will continue to check my NYTimes and fly fishing blog for any updates, and I can choose to read more about them if and when I want at the click of a button.

You can't miss the XML or RSS logo. It is bright orange and looks like the ones I have at the bottom of this page. What happens when you click the logo (for most aggregators) is pretty simple: the logo is linked to an XML document that once clicked will open your aggregator and automatically add it to your list of other "feeds."

Oh my, I forgot to mention what a feed is. A feed is short for "RSS feed." Think of it as RSS feeding your aggregator all those bits of code to make your daily website browsing a much simpler process!

Cool! Now what?

Whew! I knew you'd be pumped. First of all, get yourself an aggregator. Here are some links to two popular ones, one for PC and the other for Macs.

PC

Mac

I know the Mac program (called NetNewsWire Lite) pretty well. And Mac users, this process will be very, very easy. I'm not exactly sure how easy the NewsGator for PCs is, but am willing to learn more and write up a bit on it and post it up here if it will help.

Now (once the program is loaded and installed), open it up, and start adding your favorite RSS feeds! Many programs will have a preset list already included that it will bring up. Try adding a new one by going to a website (try nytimes.com for starters) and clicking on the XML or RSS logo. At some websites, they may have multiple RSS feeds--you can add as many as you want.

I tried my best to cut out the bits that don't matter anymore, but it's just too cool to read my own writing and hear my voice and how excited I was. :)

Thanks for joining me on memory lane.

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