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News feed questions

This screen is part of a Web Feed Reference section for the Web Feed Generator. Please ask us if you cannot find the answer to your question.

Q:What is RSS?

A: RSS is a technical term for news feeds. RSS is a form of Web site summary that can carry information about almost any subject, it does not have to be about the sort of current affairs, sports and business stories covered on television news. You can use RSS to summarise items available in an online shop, forthcoming concert dates or sports fixtures, even weather forecasts.

RSS is commonly called a news feed because it has a similar format to the "news wire" services provided by agencies like Reuters and the British Associated Press. Each item summarises the "full story" available on your Web site:

  • A title, like a news headline
  • A description that introduces the item or highlights the key points
  • A link, so readers can go to your site and read the full story

Taking this comparison further, RSS news feeds can be included in other people's Web sites, like local newspapers that print international news from Reuters. This is why you may find the term "syndicate" used with RSS, because Web sites collectively distribute the news.

The greatest strengths of RSS are its simple and standard format, which means that lots of software is available to read news feeds. Feed readers usually work closely with your standard Web browser or email package, including Microsoft Outlook and Internet Explorer, so you can go straight to the source of the news.

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Q:What is a feed reader?

A: A feed reader is a software tool that can be used to monitor, organise and read news feeds. The name feed reader is quite broad because there are lots of ways you can read feeds!

Feed readers are built in to several Web browsers and can work with your email program, so that news items appear in your new mail folder like normal messages. Other "stand-alone" feed readers run in their own window on your computer, but embed your Web browser in their display so you can open Web pages directly.

Feed readers do a lot of work behind the scenes to keep track of news feeds. They automatically download the latest items and notify your customers when new items are available. All your customers need do is glance at the updates to see if there is anything they want to read further. This means they never have to visit your Web site to find out if it has been updated, but you never miss the updates when they happen.

There is a great deal of excitement and business speculation about news feeds and many software houses are promoting trial versions of their feed readers for free (known as "beta" releases). See our browser- and email-based feed reader guide for pointers.

Q:What is a news aggregator?

A: A news aggregator is a system that gathers news feeds from many sources and makes them available through a single set of screens. Some news aggregators also merge feeds from several sites with common topics to create customised "feeds of feeds".

The term news aggregator tends to refer to centralised Internet based services, but some desktop feed readers have the same sort of features, so there is a blurred line between the two.

Public news aggregators are like Internet search engines or directories. You can register your news feeds with them so that other people can find and read your news feed without even visiting your Web site.

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Q:What is syndication?

A: Syndication is an arrangement where Web sites publish summary information about their site in a format that other Web sites can use to include in their own pages. Internet syndication is similar to the way that agencies like Reuters and the British Associated Press provide "news wire" services to supply publishers with stories that may not be covered by their own reporters.

News feed syndication is also similar to Web Rings, sites with common interests that carry banner links to promote each other. With news feeds, you can also share the content of your site with your associates.

Some Web sites use software that runs on their server to convert news feeds to Web pages. The Web Feed Generator enables you to do this without any server side scripts. The Web Feed Generator has a Javascript include format we call "Simple Syndication" that makes it much easier to include your news feed on another Web site.

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Q:Where can I get a feed reader?

A: See our review of browser- and email-based feed readers for download links.

Q:What sort of organisations are using news feeds?

A: The short answer is "all sorts", see our review of news feed publishers.

Q:What is a news feed?

A: An Internet news feed is a specially formatted summary of the items available on a Web page or a whole Web site. Each summary item has a similar form to headline news stories, hence the name, but they do not have to be about current affairs, sport and business.

Internet news feeds are a way of telling visitors about the latest updates to your Web site, and include a link so they can go directly to your site to find out more.

These features make news feeds similar to direct mailing and email notification, but without the trouble of managing subscribers, weeding out bad addresses, writing and sending the messages. News feeds are also like specially targetted advertising because they promote return visits to your Web site from people who have a genuine interest in your business.

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Q:How do visitors stay informed?

A: If visitors to your Web site want to monitor your feed, they click on the link and add it to their Web browser, mail program or stand-alone feed reader. The method varies from one reader to the next; with some, you must copy and paste the feed link into a separate window. The feed reader will download the feed for the first time to check it works, display all the current items and add it to the visitor's list of feeds.

Once your news feed is added to a visitor's feed reader, the reader will periodically check the feed to see if any items have been added. The frequency of checks can be set at any rate and normally happens automatically, whenever you are connected to the Internet.

When you have a news feed, people do not have visit your Web site day after day to see if it has changed, their feed reader will let them know when it has been updated. If the feed reader finds new items, it will notify your customers with a chime, a task bar icon or pop-up window and flag the un-read items for attention. The notification method varies from one reader to the next.

Most people that read news feeds monitor many sites and some news readers display the new items in a daily newspaper style format. Other readers show feeds like folders on your computer or messages in your email program that you click to read the latest items.

News readers display the headline, summary and link for each item in your feed. If visitors see an item they are interested in, they can click on the link for the item and it will open the original Web page in their Web browser.

See our illustrated service overview for more details.

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Q:Will customers install a feed reader to see my news?

A: Few people would install a feed reader to read any single news feed, but many people have readers already. Many Web browsers and email programs have feed readers built in, see our feed readers page for more details.

If other Web sites like yours carry news feeds, there is a good chance that your visitors are already using news feeds. There are many thousands of Web sites that use news feeds to supplement email updates and advertising, and millions more avid readers monitoring their feeds.

If your Web site features important or exclusive information for a dedicated group of readers, like public service information, professional news, sports coverage, a software product, or advocacy campaign, people are more likely to try out a news feed. Many journalists are early adopters of news feed technology because it helps them keep abreast of a wide range of sources. Other people have a similar approach to their own special interests and your site could be the trigger that sets them off.

Another enticing feature of news feeds is the long term nature of the service. If your Web site has periodic press releases, promotes conferences, events or other time sensitive information, sells collectable or exclusive products, your visitors will want to get that information ahead of anyone else. A feed reader will let them know about your latest news, results, events or new stock within minutes, without having to visit your site time after time.

Finally, it is important to stress that when people use a feed reader to monitor your site, they can also access a growing number of other useful and interesting services provided by major news feed publishers.

Most feed readers can be downloaded from the Internet and many are free to use. See our review of browser- and email-based feed readers for further details.

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Q:What does RSS stand for?

A: The R in RSS stands for another abbreviation, RDF or Resource Description Framework. RDF is a way of describing things in a format that can be processed by computers. Altogether, RSS stands for "RDF Site Summary". It is a way of describing what is on a Web site in a summary format that computers can understand.

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