What is RSS?

The fact that RSS has been around since 1999, yet we still feel the need (and with good reason) to put “what is RSS?” next to our RSS feed buttons (at least, on websites for less technologically-included audiences) suggests that something’s amiss.

As Brian Clark at Copyblogger says, “the public at large either doesn’t care about RSS, or doesn’t know they’re using it”. Does this mean we should try harder to promote RSS, or rather that we should stop worrying about explaining it so much and trust that people who will benefit from it will, in general, begin to take advantage of it?

I was at an online marketing for non-profits session the other day in which the presenter explained RSS as a technology that “emails news to your homepage.”

At the time, I thought this was wildly inaccurate (which it is), but really, does it matter all that much? The outcome of that session will probably be that some people who are interested will go explore RSS more and maybe ask their tech people to look into it, and others to whom the idea didn’t appeal will let it slide for now.

The fact that most explanations or RSS fall largely on deaf ears probably means we should stop trying to push RSS per se, and present it in ways that make it as easy to understand and as simple to use as possible — without feeling the need to nail down exactly what it is, how it’s different from/similar to Atom, or whether it means “RDF Site Summary” or “Really Simple Syndication”.

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