RSS (Group Presentation)

What is RSS?

Who is Oprah Winfrey? What is an RSS? Most people know the first answer but have no clue about the second one. Here is an article that explains RSS “the Oprah way”. To make RSS much easier to understand, Oprah defines the acronym as standing for “I am ‘Ready for Some Stories’.” Is it cool? I think most people have already got the point and would like to explore more about what is an RSS.

RSS, Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary, is an XML-based format widely used by bloggers and commercial industries to distribute web content. From an article on Rogers Cadenhead’s blog “workbench” in which he discusses the variety of icon links, here common icons that you may see on web pages that are linked to RSS.


History of RSS

Timeline (RSS History & Web RSS History):




Dec. 1996

Pre-XML MCF (Meta Content Framework)

Ramanathan V. Guha at Apple

Mar. 1997

CDF (Channel Definition Format)


Jun. 1997

MCF (using XML)


Oct. 1997

RDF (Resource Description Framework)


Dec.27 ,1997


Dave Winer at UserLand

Mar.15, 1999

RSS 0.90 (RDF Site Summary)


Jun.15, 1999

ScriptingNews 2.0b1

Dave Winer at UserLand

Jul.10, 1999

RSS 0.91

Dan Libby at Netscape

Aug.14, 2000

RSS 1.0

The RSS-DEV working group at O’Reilly

Dec.25, 2000

RSS 0.92

Dave Winer at UserLand

Sep.18, 2002

RSS 2.0

Dave Winer

Jul.13, 2003

RSS 2.0 specification

Harvard Law School

RSS Feeds and Feed Readers

RSS Feeds work similar to a Bookmark in a web browser. Content providers publish content summaries in a RSS feed to their potential readers. RSS feeds are “a spam-free, quick and efficient way to read news and weblogs” (Brian, Introduction to RSS).

A feed reader or aggregator is a client software used to retrieve syndicated web content such as news, blogs, podcasts, etc., through web feeds. There are generally two types of RSS readers (RSS Specifications). One is a self-contained program such as SharpReader, the other one is web-based such as Google Reader. Some web browsers, such as Firefox, Opera and Safari, are also capable of tracking RSS feeds.

Top RSS readers include READ3R.COM, Google Reader, FeedDemon, NewsGator, NetNewsWire, Bloglines, Blog Navigator, SharpReader, NewzCrawler.

How Does RSS Work?

Basically, RSS keeps track of the changes of content or webpages posted on the Internet and delivers the changes to users. The following describes how RSS works:

  1. Users download RSS reader;
  2. Information sites publish content summaries in RSS feeds;
  3. Users selct summaries and content; and
  4. Users add URLs of RSS feeds to RSS reader.

 Users are not confined to access RSS feeds by using a computer. They can access the feeds through their mobile devices such as cell phones and blackberries.


I have some personal experience with RSS readers. The time-saving feature of RSS is what I appreciate most. I believe that many of you have some bad experience in finding what you want across various web sites. Pop-up ads and slow downloads are really annoying. Even worse, you are very likely to get lost in some poorly organized web sites. However, with a RSS reader, all you have to do is just a simple click. Also, RSS feeds save you the time of going to check a website to see if information has been added or updated, as the information is sent directly to you when content changes. No searching is required beyond the initial set-up; having already identified the news areas of interest to you, information from the same source will continue to arrive as it is created.

RSS in libraries

Many libraries adopt RSS for distributing library related information such as library news (e.g. Reno Libraries), subject blogs (e.g. Georgia State University Library), new acquisitions (e.g. University of Alberta Libraries), book reviews (e.g. Colorado College Library), catalog search queries and personalized circulation information (e.g. Hennepin County Library), and staff communication (e.g. Oregon Libraries Network) (Yue and Greene, 2006). Reno Libraries offer RSS feeds of electronic journals to patrons.

As some of you may already know, RSS is available through the Western Libraries. Western Libraries offers information news on all the campus libraries. Other academic libraries offer other types of information through RSS like the University of New Brunswick Library, which offers “e-resources status”. McMaster University Library offers a variety of information ranging from instruction, new books, and trial e-Resources. Universities’ Libraries can use RSS feeds in different ways in order to keep their community informed on all fronts.

Other good applications of RSS could be associated with electronic journals as they are usually updated regularly, monthly, semi-monthly, bimonthly, etc. Also, RSS can be applied to e-books. For example, there could be a feed of new titles of an author or even subject related feeds for patrons wanting to know about specific acquisitions rather than getting a full list of all the new library acquisitions. They could choose their areas of interest, and get those titles. RSS could also be used for informing patrons of their upcoming due dates on loaned material, as a warning could be sent in advance.


The Future of RSS

Internet Explorer 7.0 released this year implements RSS. Since it is the market leader, it is very likely that more and more users will be exposed to RSS. We can expect a fast growth of RSS user group.

The use of RSS for current awareness groups can be particularly useful and important for libraries working in fields that have a rapid changing environment such as science and technology, research or medicine, as the need for up to date information can be crucial and important to clients. Another substantial advantage with RSS is that it can save users a lot of time from going back and forth to sites, when they are looking for new information. As we all know, time is something that is very valuable, and RSS offers some help with managing time better as it saves users from going to sites looking for the new updates, RSS feeds bring the updates to the users, saving them the time of going and looking for the information, which may or may not be there. New programs such as Feed Digest even make it possible for you to group all of your feeds together into one site and re-publish them according to your own interests.


Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary is a valuable communications tool that serves information providers and consumers alike. In making it simpler for web users to consistently find new information via self-customized feeds, users are better able to find the answers they require and save time in doing so. As information and knowledge managers, Librarians can dramatically increase their effectiveness in serving web-abled clients by providing RSS options on their institutional websites. In order to maximize the value of those feeds, however, Librarians must also provide clear instruction like The Common Craft Show’s “RSS in Plain English” and attractive, easy-to-comprehend displays for the less computer-literate on how to access and use the technology. Finally, it is imperative that Librarians and their institutions never assume that any one form of communication will be so effective as to obviate the need any other. Various means of disseminating information should continue to be used in reaching one’s user base; adding the RSS into that array may benefit many.

Xian Liu, Qingyi Su, Jeremie LeBlanc, Shannon McAlorum



  1. […] Thanks to Iris, Qingyi, Jeremie and Shannon for their presentation on RSS which you can find here. Read the presentation and add your comments and questions to the end of the […]

  2. Hi guys! Interesting and informative presentation. You know I have always seen the icons you described – however, I never knew what they represented (with the exception of RSS and XML which was of course introduced at the begnning of the course). Useful to know! It was also insightful to see the different ways RSS have been used in libraries. Even having clicked on all the links provided, I must admit Georgia State RSS feed organizaton is still one of my favourites!

  3. Hi guys! Ni hao!
    Great presentation! I loved how I can scroll over the links and see the snapshot.

    I thought the Oprah defintion was interesting. It definitely dumbed it down. It’s funny how a simply concept can become extremely confusing to people when it’s used with technology… it’s like a techno-block.

    I noticed in the blogger’s list (skinny jeans?) of popular rss readers, there were some that are paid-for. I’m wondering what features they add… What would compel someone to buy something, when there are so many (good?) free alternatives?

    My second question is privacy… if you subscribe to an rss feed is there a way to ensure your privacy? For example, I work for an investment bank, where confidentiality is extremely important. If I subscribed to the rrs feed of a potential target company, would that company know that joe-blow investment bank is researching them?

    Any thoughts?



  4. OK, the best response I’ve found to this so far is from one of this week’s readings. I searched and “mamamusings” and others but nothing was in language a non-programmer like me could grasp. So, from Robin Good: “Privacy and security protection. RSS subscriber never have to provide an email address to their selected information provider. Publishers cannot as a consequence easily resell those emails to unscrupulous marketers and email spammers. RSS is hardly spammable as you always know the source of each news item received, and there is no easy way yet to easily hack into the system.”

  5. As for paid-for v.s. free feeds: I imagine those requesting money for their feeds believe their services offer greater value – or appear to, to an unexperienced Web user. It may simply be they believe they can get money for what others provide for free. I’ll continue to look into it and let you know if i can figure it out – but keep in mind that I’m a dumpster diver who celebrates “Buy Nothing Day” annually…

    Group members: Any insights?

  6. Hi Everyone

    Thank you for the informative discussion on RSS feeds. I enjoyed reading the additional articles, and was surprised to see that there are so many RSS readers available. I wonder if there’s a story behind the use of two terms “Really Simple Syndication” and “Rich Site Summary”? Why two? Did you come across anything in your research?


  7. Hi IIris, Qingyi, Jeremie and Shannon,

    Great presentation guys!!! Wow, I can’t believe there is so much history behind RSS. It dates back all the way to 1996? I am shocked that I had never heard of it before this year! (I’m so out of the loop!) I also wanted to thank Shannon for taking the time and answering all of our questions and comments—you did a great job!!

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