What's That RSS Thing In The Top-Right?, News (MBSportsWeb Demo)

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What's That RSS Thing In The Top-Right?
Submitted By Shaun Peet on Thursday, July 31, 2008
A new and really cool feature was recently added to this website, called "RSS", which in technical terms stands for Really simple Syndication.  You can see the RSS symbol in the top-right corner of this page.  So what's the big deal with RSS and what makes it so cool?  Read on to find out.

As the internet has matured over the past twenty or so years, there has been huge growth in the number of information-containing websites on the web. This has created a vast amount of information that is available, but it also requires a certain amount of time and patience for visitors to find the information that they are interested in, since it required visiting a site just to find out if there is new information. This problem is what the catch-phrase "Web 2.0" and RSS attempt to solve.

Let me give you an example.

My alma mater is Ohio University, where I played a couple of years on the varsity men's baseball team back in 2002-2003. With the traditional web, whenever I wanted to check out if anything was new with this year's team, I would go to www.ohiobobcats.com, and then head on to the Men's Baseball team site. If I also wanted to check out how other schools were doing, I would have to go to each of their sites - not to get the information, but just to see if there was anything new. That's a lot of time "wasted" visiting those sites if there's nothing new for me to see.

So what RSS does is allow a website to generate (or "syndicate") bits of its information, such as news articles, in what is called an RSS Feed. The articles in the feed usually don't have the whole story, just the title and the first few sentences or paragraph.  The feed gets published with certain bits of data so that an RSS Reader knows when new information (or "unread articles") are available. RSS Readers, incidentally, now come standard in all the modern major browsers as well as other programs, such as Microsoft Outlook 2007 and other email programs.  If you did a google search for "RSS Reader", you'll find several results.  But don't do that just yet, read a little more first.

So back to my example.  With RSS Feeds, instead of visiting the Ohio Baseball team's site to see if a new article has been posted, I simply "subscribe" to their feed, located at http://ohiobobcats.cstv.com/sports/m-basebl/headline-rss.xml.  Chances are, if you are using a modern major browser, if you visit that link it will ask you if you want to subscribe to that feed.  The real beauty of RSS Readers is that they allow you to subscribe to as many feeds as you want. So now you have one centralized place - that you control - where you can see if there's new information on one of the sites you are interested in, and follow the links within the RSS Feed to go directly to that new information.

The basic definition of Web 2.0 is the complete separation of content from layout, so that the content can be integrated anywhere.  RSS Feeds are a relatively simple way for web developers to accomplish that separation, and are a big part of the Web 2.0 movement.  There are several websites out there that will allow you to merge several RSS Feeds onto one page. One of the coolest most slick ones out there is PageFlakes.com.

So to show off what I mean by all the gibberish above, I've created and shared a PageFlakes page that combines RSS Feeds from the Ohio Baseball team, as well as this website's feed and some other local hockey websites.  Have a look at the page here:

http://www.pageflakes.com/shaunpeet/761580.

Now, the concept of PageFlakes goes way beyond just RSS Feeds, and fully dive into the Web 2.0 world allowing web developers to make "flakes" of their site that directly plug-in to a pageflakes page, but RSS Feeds still play a big role in the PageFlakes realm. Not to mention that it's really easy to use, and to setup a demonstration page for this article took mere seconds to accomplish.

So go ahead and subscribe to this site's feed and look on the web for other feeds that interest you. As far as I could tell, the Toronto Maple Leafs don't have any RSS Feeds available, but the Ottawa Senators do.

...perhaps that's why the Leafs didn't make the playoffs?
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