RSS (Really Simple Syndication, Rich Site Summery, RDF Site Summary, RDF Site Syndication, Really Stupid Situation) is a format originally designed for placing the salient headlines of popular news sites on another site. The theory ran that the RSS file contained the headlines, links, and a quick description of the items on the front page.

I’m not going to go into the detailed history of RSS, because it’s something of a minefield, with various different personalities involved. More details can be found in the cross references.

With the Weblog Revolution, RSS has found a new niche as a method of syndicating your latest musings to anyone who happens to want them, a defined format that can be automatically got by a suitable client (Say, SharpReader for windows, NetNewsWire for MacOS X, Straw for Linux, or AmphetaDesk for anything that can run perl) that will re-download the RSS feeds you specify every hour or so, bringing your favourite blogs (Or news (the BBC news site does RSS feeds)) to your desktop.

Moveable Type & LiveJournal users get RSS feeds automagically with their software (MT users get it at bloghome/index.rdf usually, and LJ users tack “rss” to the end of their URL to get it, e.g. http://jwz.livejournal.com/rss or http://www.livejournal.com/~jwz/rss), Blogspot users have to be paid users, and Blogger Pro users have a switch to flick. Every other blogging system has a plugin somewhere).

RSS has three major versions, all mostly compatible, but with some subtle and really annoying differences between them. RSS2 is the latest and now frozen version, it supports XML Namespaces, which means it is possible for any random developer to extend RSS2 to include any information they deem necessary for their blog. It’s also been used – to my knowledge – as a weblog export format, a display format, and a political tool. More details on this can be found in the cross references.

RSS was developed by Dave Winer from versions above 0.9 to 2.0, with the notable exception of the released “RSS 1.0” which was developed by the Yahoo Group RSS-DEV without Mr Winer’s participation. This was the most popular of the various attempts to convince Mr Winer to develop RSS as an open format or replace it in the process.

Currently, a format to replace RSS is being worked on in a wiki.

This is the first in a series of articles designed to introduce Geek-Weblog concepts to a less technically minded audience. Feedback on it’s patronisation level – or lack of same – and over “techiness” – or lack of same – as well as corrections are both welcomed and encouraged.