Life on the Internet, before RSS – Really?
Most of us have no idea what life was really like prior to the invention of electricity, the light bulb, the telephone, etc. Though most of us that are in our mid 30′s and older have all heard the stories from parents and grandparents about how life was ‘way back when’. When there were no TV’s, and you could go to the movies, buy popcorn, 2 drinks, 10 gallon of gas, a pack of cigarettes, a bag of candy, a Ford Galaxy and go to the Dr. and get a new liver for $1.25.
Of course those stories were hard to believe! How the heck did they have time to go to the movies after working 162 hours per week for 43 cents?
However, even we in our 30′s have a hard time convincing our kids how much fun we had playing “Pong” all day, or how we rode in cars that wasn’t even equipped with seatbelts, much less air conditioning.
It is just as hard to convince them how we never saw a real life cell phone till we were married, and even then it was too big to fit in your pocket. Even with the extendable antenna pushed all the way down!! Yep, the kids look at you like you’re from Mars huh?
Well think how crazy our kids’ kids are going to look at them when they tell stories of life before RSS feeds, feed readers and media aggregators. Truth be told, most of us have no clue what the heck they are now! So what do we say when asked, “What is RSS”?
Circa Mid 1990′s:
There was a time, not so long ago it seems, that the only way, or at least the most effective way, to keep track of all your favorite websites, as well as keep up with current activities taken place within them, was to “bookmark” the page, and each day sit at your computer and manually click on each individual site to view new post from weblogs and/or headlines from news publications.
Although now it seems as though this was a mind numbing practice, at the time we knew of no better way so essentially it didn’t feel as though that great of a hassle and most web surfers were content with the bookmarking process. Why?
Because like our parents and grandparents felt about electricity, TV’s and microwave ovens, we that were just a short time ago were bookmarking our favorite sites so we could keep up with updates and current events, we did not know any better. We can’t possibly desperately want, or even miss what we have never heard of, seen, or used before.
However, just as electricity, light bulbs, TV’s, cell phones and PS3′s, once exposed to their capabilities, we can never go back and having to do so is worse than having to pay a “whole nickel” for a gallon of milk!
Just as Ben Franklin showed the world that indeed we could harness electricity, Thomas Edison used it to light up a room, in which Bell sat while making the telephone, that quite some years later was used to connect our Macintosh computers to the world wide web, that Jobs and Gates took to whole new levels, just so we could learn about “weblogs”, then “podcasting”, from the same man that showed us that we no longer had to bookmark our favorites, just to keep up with the news we like, when all we had to do was to subscribe to them via “RSS Feeds”……..Dave Winer.
What Is RSS?
Throughout a typical day of browsing over internet websites, it is an almost certainty that at some point you will come across a row of optional methods of following the particular site that you are currently visiting.
Of these options available, one may be a small “RSS”, or even “RSS Feed” button. The purpose of the RSS is to allow users to subscribe to continuous updating formats in which each time a new blog entry, news update, or an audio or video post is published, the subscriber will receive an immediate formatted update as well.
Publishers of content greatly value the benefits they receive from the RSS’ XML file format. Because the RSS feeds are viewed by several different browsers all at once, any content published, then formatted through the RSS, becomes automatically syndicated material. In fact, users and publishers alike commonly call the RSS “Really Simple Syndication”.
However, the actual name associated with RSS is “Rich Site Summary”. The name was given by Dan Libby of Netscape after his revamping of the initial attempt by the company to create the same type of service for its subscribers in 1999 called “RDF” Site Summary.
Libby had tried to successfully duplicate the technology and formats created by Winer when launching RDF. Unfortunately, although Winer’s 1997 launch of the similar feature of syndication through his “Scripting News” had not gone as hoped, mainly due to Netscape’s prior success and name recognition, still Winer had an ace, or actually, an “XML”, up his sleeve.
The New RSS:
When Netscape was purchased by AOL, Winer was all alone on the RSS train. After reworking it several times over, only to improve the format for subscribers’ benefits, not his, Winer developed RSS to carry audio and video so we could use podcasting and watch videos updated by our favorites as well.
The things that cause RSS to be effective, and essentially do the unique things that RSS feeds actually do each and every time a subscriber to a weblog, media outlet, or simply their favorite site clicks that funky looking “RSS” feed icon, are called aggregators.
Aggregators were the way Winer could perform the internet syndicating wizardry that made him, and RSS, so famous and hard to live without. To really understand how RSS works behind the scenes, one must understand aggregators as well.
Feed Reader and Aggregator:
Whenever an individual surfing the web locates a site in which they may choose to become a follower of the material included upon this particular site, they have the option of doing so by selecting on the “RSS” icon.
Once the person clicks on the button they are redirected to a subscription page that allows them to secure their membership through special software designed in order for the RSS feed to be formatted and read.
The software is referred to as a “Feed reader” or “Aggregator”. It is this software that essentially pushes (or “pulls” as most RSS users refer to the process used by the aggregators) all the published content into a simple, one location viewing area that allows the subscriber the ability to avoid having to go from site to site reviewing recent post, news stories or blog entries, and lets them utilize the aggregator to see everything in one location.
The aggregators, or feed reader, are the heart and soul of the RSS feed retrieval process. Because of the software’s ability to search each individually selected site according to pre-selected time intervals chosen by the subscriber, scan for newly published content, and once new content is found, pulls it into the subscriber’s web browser for later viewing.
Who knows how long it would have been before our generation of “70′s babies” would have found a better way to view and stay updated to our favorite web sites and weblogs, to be honest, had it not been for Dave Winer and his persistence in showing us an easier way, even our grandkids may have had to suffer through a day of sifting through their favorite sites, while being forced to perform hideous and draconian methods of torture, such as clicking on those mid-evil “bookmarks”.
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