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I went looking for an article to link to explaining what RSS is—and why one should even care what RSS is—for regular people who have never heard of it. I couldn’t find one, so I wrote this post to send to friends and family.

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    RSS is a way of following websites.

    I would like to suggest that RSS is a way to follow anything.

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      Absolutely correct and a good point.

      However sometimes when explaining what to many people can be incredibly abstract technical concepts, it helps to have some kind of conceptual anchor to help them understand how this actually works.

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        I agree in general, but it’s worth noting that the most common use of RSS today is probably not to follow websites.

        21 years ago, Apple launched a portable music player called the iPod. (‘No wireless. Less space than a Nomad. Lame’ - Slashdot review). One of the biggest criticisms that folks had with it was the lack of FM radio support. Back then, most mobile phones had FM receivers because they were so cheap to build that you could stick them in anything that had an antenna (headphone wires worked fine) and a speaker and so launching a music player without FM support seemed odd. To provide the closest approximation of live radio possible on an offline device, some folks wrote a tool that would grab RSS feeds with MP3 files in the targets, download the MP3 files, and add them to the iTunes library, which would then sync them to the iPod. This was a form of broadcasting to iPods and so was called ‘podcasting’.

        Since then, podcasts have become supported by every mobile phone and every tablet. They are almost certainly more widely used than feed readers.

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      I think it makes more sense to talk about “feeds” or “web feeds” rather than to focus on any particular technology, especially since “RSS” has three incompatible versions and the standard for web feeds isn’t even named RSS at all (though when people say “RSS feed” and you have an Atom feed they still mean that thing).

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        While I understand and even perhaps agree with your objection on strictly technical grounds, I think it’s important to consider the audience.

        This person’s non technical family do not and will not care about the important distinctions between RSS, Atom, and RSS with a Twist of Lemon.

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          This person’s non technical family do not and will not care about the important distinctions

          Exactly, that’s why I would suggest using the human-friendly name “web feed”. Just like when I talk to my family I say “email” not “SMTP”

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            but feeds have become a type of user interface, not just a set of standards. a lot of websites have a “feed” page which could be called a web feed even if there is no RSS or Atom.

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              Sure, and people used to call Facebook messages “email” (before they became chat).

              The point is introducing people to the idea of a “feed reader” where they can put only “feeds” that they want. Feeds from out on the web. “Web feeds”

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                human-centric terms are nice but they leave more room for the technical details to be changed for the worse. a proprietary replacement for RSS could still use the term “web feed,” but it would not call itself RSS.

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          I try to use the neutral term “feed” as well but to be honest the term “RSS” is mostly a synonym. Unless someone has specifying a specific version on the end they are probably just as happy to get an Atom feed as an RSS one.

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          I feel like the biggest benefit of RSS was missed.

          • It works across platform. If all of the major platforms supported RSS you could follow one person on Instagram, someone on Twitter and someone on YouTube and Mastodon from a single place.

          Right now consuming content from a new platform is hard. You need a new app, a new accounts and you need to remember to go back and check yet another news feed. This encourages platform lock-in and essentially forces creators to publish to all of the popular platforms because moving audiences to your prefered platform is incredibly painful.

          RSS almost entirely limits this problem because your news feed contains content from all platforms, individual blogs and whatever else you want. Now creators can just publish to their favourite platform (or their own site) and you can follow easily.

          For example I love that I can follow video producers from YouTube or PeerTube in one folder of my feed reader and it doesn’t really make a difference to me.

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            Wikipedia does a pretty good job as well I think: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RSS