RSS is a set of XML feed file formats of varying degrees of use for syndicating time-stamped content from web sites, and sometimes used to refer more broadly to feed file formats as a whole including Atom, or even more broadly in vernacular as a synonym for feed file or even feeds or syndication as a concept. RSS is an acronym that stands for: Rich Site Summary (originally RDF Site Summary, often dubbed Really Simple Syndication). Atom is an alternative XML format for feeds.
The most widespread use of RSS feeds may be to distribute information about podcasts. The addition of an enclosure element to the specification for RSS 0.92 passed the web address of an audio file to an aggregator. RSS feeds are the channel through which aggregators such as Apple Podcasts receive information about podcasts.
RSS formats are fairly widely used, from news sites to blogs (both self-hosted and services/silos), through e-commerce or classified sites such as Craigslist, though there have been shutdowns in recent years.
See feed file for a list of RSS formats and those often lumped in with RSS.
Many internet users rely on RSS to keep track of websites. Having an RSS feed makes your content more discoverable to your target audience because visitors do not need to manually check your site for new posts.
IndieWeb Examples Many people use RSS to share content from their websites.
Some people feel that other forms of feed are more useful.
Instead of publishing or consuming RSS:
- Publish h-entry in your HTML. See https://indieweb.org/ for more
- Consume h-entry, e.g. with a microformats2 parser
- Use a tool like unmung to convert RSS into h-feed.
When using such alternatives, you should consider RSS or Atom's ubiquituous nature. Very few readers support Microformats at this point, compared to the thousands of self-hosted RSS feed readers.
In response to social silos turning off or removing access to their RSS Feeds, some groups have created work-arounds or alternate means of re-enabling RSS feeds. Some of these are listed below:
- Ryan Barrett's granary fetches and converts Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, Instagram, and Google+ data to and from RSS, as well as other formats like ActivityStreams and microformats2 HTML/JSON.
- RSS Bridge
Many silos offer RSS feeds for different kinds of content, but the details are not always easy to find. The projects above give access to feeds from some silos.
Silo examples offers specific information for several silos.
RSS feeds can be automatically discovered by feed readers if the homepage contains a link to it in its head:
<link rel="alternate" type="application/rss+xml" title="RSS" href="/feed.xml"/>
The title is important if there are multiple feeds linked, e.g. category and comment feeds.
Problems Consuming RSS
There are many known problems consuming RSS feeds. See feed#Criticism for an extensive listing.
Use of the term "RSS" in conversation, whether online or in-person, has been ambiguously and interchangeably used to mean:
- RSS 2.0 in particular (implying all other versions of RSS aren't actually RSS, or are ignorable, or both)
- RSS feed files of any version
- RSS feed files of any version AND Atom feed files of any version
- as a synonym for a feed file of any format
Items appearing as new again
When the GUID for an item in an RSS feed changes, old items that have already been read will appear again as new. With a podcast feed, this means software will try to download episodes you've already listened to again.
gRegor Morrill: I've experienced this several times with podcast feeds. Some of the feeds have 50 episodes in them, so suddenly my podcast software is trying to queue up a lot of episodes I've already heard, and I have to manually remove them.
- Screenshot of Overcast.fm queueing up previously listened podcast episodes
Praise for RSS, example uses:
- 2013-03-14 Brent Simmons: Why I love RSS and You Do Too
- 2018-08-15 Brad Feld RSS: The Persistent Protocol
- 2018-09-17 Brent Simmons (again) Oh God Not This Again
- 2021-02-07 Brandon Quakkelaar RSS is Wonderful which also links to an app they've built that kind of creates a recommendation engine based on RSS feeds.
Causes Plumbing Misfocus
Discussion of RSS in the context of indieweb or openweb etc. typically causes everyone involved in such communication to shift their thinking / conversation to be plumbing-centric (since RSS is a format, not a user feature), instead of user-centric.
This is at the opportunity cost of discussing actual user-level features, such the features and levels in IndieMark, and against generally agreed upon IndieWeb principles, in particular:
- UX and design are more important than protocols and formats.
Solution: refocus the discussion on use-cases.
When someone asks "Why don't you support RSS?" or requests "Please use RSS":
Ask them, "What's the use case you're trying to solve?"
Then document the use-case, and how you're solving it with building blocks on your own website.
And keep the discussion focused on use-cases, rather than plumbing.
See proof of work for some techniques to keep discussion focused on UX, use-cases, and other indieweb principles
Feed File Criticisms
RSS variants are all feed files, thus all the feed file criticisms apply as well.
- 2013-03-14 Criticism: M.G. Siegler
Who is going to tell the normal people that RSS is dead?
Who is going to explain to normal people what RSS was?
- 2018-08-31 Criticism: Kevin Marks
when you use RSS
Your meaning's a mess
You really can't tell
Plaintext or html
Description can be
Content or summary
And when I click it
Browsers show gibberish,
So instead use h-feed
An you won't write a screed
- 2021-07-10 Beyond RSS: Blaine Cook
- "RSS was never meaningfully two-way. A lot of the indieweb stuff is effectively about adding that, though."
This section specifically documents shutdowns or dropping of support for RSS feed files on sites, whether indieweb, corporate, and/or silos.
- Kartik Prabhu dropped his RSS (version unknown) feed file on 2015-02-10
More shutdowns are documented in feed shutdowns.
See the Wikipedia article on RSS for a more thorough history.
This section is a stub, please add to it to expand it to include notable events in the development of RSS.
- 1999-2003 the 9 incompatible versions of RSS
- 2000-07 to 2000-11 The Great RSS Schism
- 2000-12-06 RSS 1.0 was published.
- 2002-09-06 RSS 2.0 announced
- 2002-09-06 RSS 3.0 announced
- 2003-2007 RSS Atom Wars
An RSS feed does not need to show all of the posts that a site has published. This is important for websites that post a significant amount of content, for instance likes, replies, and notes.
Some potential ways to share posts:
- Have a separate feed for all posts and one feed for website users
- Share only the most recent 10 or so posts, depending on your needs
- i.e. share a week of posts
- Feed readers often cache feeds so you do not need to serve all of your content at once
- Potentially have a maximum file size that ensures your feed cannot exceed a certain side
- Technical details pending
If you share the body of your posts in your feed, you may want to opt for a shorter feed. This is because the file size of a feed will increase significantly if the body of each post is long.
- feed file / Atom
- sidefile antipattern
- XSL for creating human-readable RSS feeds
- 2018-12-18 The Rise and Demise of RSS
- 2018-09-16 first version
- 2019-01-09 syndicated to Vice
- 2017-09-08 Gizmodo: Why RSS Still Beats Facebook and Twitter for Tracking News
- Official RSS format for depositing documents to the National Library of Sweden (PDF)
- 2017-05-18 RSS: there's nothing better (note use of term "RSS" to mean RSS or Atom, as explicitly defined in the Postscript)
- 2019-04-18 Deep dive about podcast feeds gives some insights into the interconnections among podcast publishers, podcast directories and podcast apps, all linked by the RSS feed.
- http://isrssdead.com/ (a possible spoof on http://isabevigodadead.com/)
- "Edgecases to consider with RSS/ATOM feeds" https://inessential.com/2013/03/18/brians_stupid_feed_tricks
- Official RSS feeds for various U.S. government activities: https://www.govinfo.gov/feeds
- Testimonial (Notable, Guardian UK journalist) https://twitter.com/MartinBelam/status/1480231689809014800 (also in context of Matt/Anil Web 2.0 tweet discussions)
- "I want my RSS feeds back!" @MartinBelam January 9, 2022
- "Unsubscribed from all RSS Feeds that only deliver their headlines or headline and a very small excerpt. Really like the idea of reading the whole post in the feed actually and being forced to visit the website and leave my reader." @marcthiele March 15, 2022
- an example of a styled feed https://www.miriamsuzanne.com/feed.xml
- Feed43, a service to turn any website into an RSS feed using search patterns. Example: creating RSS feeds for Rumble channels (archived).
- Good (modern) introduction to feeds and readers https://aboutfeeds.com/
- 2023-03-06 The Atlantic https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2023/03/social-media-algorithms-twitter-meta-rss-reader/673282/