Im hooked on Really Simple Syndication (RSS), but it hasnt always been this way. Over the last year or so, while we slowly built a list of RSS feeds for the PCMag.com Web site, I continually scratched my head and wondered, “Whats the point?”
RSS technology is a result of the growth of XML and its ease of use. It allows Webmasters to produce XML news feeds for their sites easily. Those who run reader software can subscribe to and read the feeds. I understood how RSS worked. What I didnt get was who would see the feeds, why they would read them, and what they would do with the links.
I was having a hard time separating my feeling about RSS from the bad memories I still have from the Webs first dance with push technology, PointCast. Depending on whom you asked, PointCast was an Internet-based environment that was designed either to augment or supplant the Web. I still dont know which is correct (Microsoft didnt either, so it added channels to Internet Explorer to end the confusion). Using PointCast, companies like CNN and Disney would deliver multimedia-rich stories (and PointCast would deliver equally fat ads) via dial-up connection to heavy and slow interfaces. Theres no gentle way to say this: The entire system sucked wind. It was incredibly slow, rigid, and could bring any computer to a virtual halt. Thank goodness it failed.
So I had to wonder how RSS would be different. Coworkers usually answered my snide comments with, “Download a reader and try it out. Its easy.” “Right,” I grumbled. “Everything online is easy. Come on, guys, I work in this industry. Nothing is ever easy or works consistently for any length of time.” My reasoning seemed perfect—except for one small thing. RSS, it turns out, is the exception.