CITA RSS Aggregator newsfeed

CITA RSS Aggregator newsfeed

RSS Aggregator > About RSS > Basics

What is RSS?

RSS is generally accepted as standing for 'Really Simple Syndication' although it has also been known as 'RDF Site Summary' and 'Rich Site Summary'. It is a collection of really simple standards for publishing articles of news. The standard describes three main things:

  1. Channels. A channel is like a television channel - but there are a lot more RSS channels than TV channels. Each channel is devoted to a specific topic. The BBC, for example, has channels for: international news; news from England; news from London and so on. There are even BBC RSS feeds for individual football teams!
  2. Items. An item refers to a specific item of news. Most items provide: a headline; a brief description; and a link to a page providing the full news article.
  3. Enclosures (also known as Podcasts). Any item can contain an enclosure just like an Email can contain an attachment. Enclosures can be any type of file. For example: a music file; a video file; or a document.

You tell the Aggregator which channels you are interested in and it monitors them for you. When there is news for you it lets you know. You can read the headline and the brief description and - if you want to learn more - a single mouse click retrieves the full news item for you.

Who provides RSS feeds?

There are three basic kinds of provider:

  1. News providers. These are people in the business of keeping you up to date. Many of the newspaper and magazine sites, for example, provide free RSS channels.
  2. Organisations. For example, a company wanting to keep its customers informed about new products.
  3. Private individuals. People publish web logs (or Blogs) about their lives including snippets of information they think will be interesting or useful to readers.

Click here for more information about how RSS is used.

A brief history of RSS

In 1999 Netscape launched It used XML (eXtended Meta Language) to syndicate news using RSS version 0.9. This was enhanced later in the year to version 0.91. was heavily involved in the promotion and development of RSS and in 2002 it published version 0.92 of the standard which lifted many of the restrictions in 0.91. Later on it announced versions 0.93 and 0.94 but they were not deployed.

In 2000, there was a major fork in the development of RSS when the RSS-DEV working group announced version 1.0. This was a substantial development that provided opportunities for people to develop extensions to the RSS standard. This was consistent with the RDF (Resource Description Framework) standard used originally as the basis for version 0.9. However, the standard is more complex than the other 0.9x variants. In the event only two major extensions have appeared in common usage: the 'Dublin Core' extension and the 'Syndication' extension.

UserLand subsequently announced version 2.0 which consolidated its simple approach to the RSS standard. The numbering implies that 2.0 is a development of 1.0, but it isn't. The two versions are similar but have gone down different paths.

The RSS Aggregator can handle versions 0.9x, 1.0, 2.0 and the two major extensions to the 1.0 standard.

That's not the end of the story, however. There is a group trying to resolve confusion about RSS standards by creating a quite different one known as Atom. At CITA we can't see this as being a useful contribution. However, we provide support for Atom feeds as well as RSS ones. The standard is now finalised so we support version 1.0 as well as the interim 0.3 version.

Finally, it has become accepted that people exchange information about RSS channels using a standard known as OPML (Outline Processor Markup Language). The Aggregator can read and write channel details using OPML.

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