Random geekery since 2005.

Husband, father, programmer, speaker, writer, blogger, podcaster, collector, traveler, golfer.

RSS is not pronounced Arse…

Written in


Alternate Title: Why Do You Read Websites Anymore?

Have you ever seen that icon to the left? Ever wonder why almost every site has one? My question to you is this…why are you still visiting websites for their content?

I remember it like it was yesterday…I would get in to work each morning, and open my browser. I would then proceed to open 5 tabs. One for CNN. One for FARK. One for Scott Hanselman’s blog. One for ESPN. One for my email. And then I’d spend 20 minutes reading about what was going on in the world. It used to really frustrate me when Scott didn’t have a post. Why did I waste my time going to his site? I wish I could just get him to let me know when he posted a message!  (Note: I know I don’t post every day, and I would hate to think that there are some of you coming to my site to see if I’ve updated anything…here’s my RSS feed.)

Does this sound like you? Did you think that icon up above stood for Wi-Fi, or audio podcast, or maybe you just haven’t noticed it before. It’s the key to saving you time and effort on the Internet. There’s no need to visit websites anymore. At least not the ones that have new content to publish. The icon represents the term RSS, which stands for "Really Simple Syndication." The general idea behind it is straightforward: Rather than go to each site that you want to read, why not have them "push" the content to you, like an email? 

Why I Hate Browser Bookmarks

There was a day when my browser’s bookmarks could have been compared to the early versions of Yahoo’s seach index. Hundreds of links categorized into dozens of subjects. All useful, but only when you’re using that computer.  Once you get home, you don’t have access to that information any more (unless you’re using Live Mesh.) Then came browser toolbars, like Google’s, to save the day (temporarily).

Why I Hate Browser Toolbars

Browser toolbars are a vast improvement over standard bookmarking, because you can store your list in the Internet cloud. But you still have to install the toolbar on your system, which at times can be intrusive (and requires admin rights). This also makes it difficult for multiple user experiences, like I have at home.  It’s also a challenge when you’re using a computer that’s not yours.  Like at a friend’s house, or at the library.  Now, since the data is stored in the cloud, we can still get to it relatively easily, but it doesn’t ultimately solve the primary problem:  pulling data vs. having it pushed to us.

Why I Love RSS

Nearly every kind of published data can be exposed as an RSS feed.  At its core, it’s just XML.  But the infrastructure surrounding this technology is so robust, it really doesn’t make sense NOT to use it.  Each morning now, I scan through over 100 websites-worth of content, read the articles that peak my interest, and discard the rest.  And I only had to go to one place to do it:  my RSS aggregator.

Now, here is the place where I’m supposed to tell you that Outlook can do RSS aggregation for you, and actually, so can Vista (it’s built into the OS).  But I don’t use those.  Nor do I use the one in Live Hotmail, or any one of probably 10 other Microsoft products that will do it for you.  Nope, I use Google Reader.  And the reason is simple:  it works for what I want it to do.  There’s probably well over 100 popular RSS aggregation applications out there for you to try.  Some are desktop based (I don’t recommend this, because it brings you back to being stuck on one machine), and many are web based.  The reason I like Reader is because it simply and easily contributes to my social networking addiction as well.

Why RSS and Social Networking Go Together

After reading a post in my aggregator, it gives me the option to "Share" it.  What this actually does is add the article to yet another RSS feed that I can provide to people.  In this case, it’s not what I have written, but what I have enjoyed reading.  Click here to see my shared items.  But not only that, there’s also a widget that I can add to my blog.  You’ll see it on the right side, titled "Stuff I’ve Read."  It gets better.  I’ve also added it to my FriendFeed, so that when I share something, people following my feed will know about it.

The Real Reason I Wrote This

Most bloggers really enjoy the statistics their blog generates.  There are two reasons I write these posts:

1)  I am super-passionate about technology, and I think my thoughts and opinions might expose someone to something they’ve never seen before.

2)  My ego absolutely loves the traffic spike a new post creates.

And I know I’m not alone.  There’s a few statistics, specifically, that bloggers compare themselves with.  The first is just pure traffic.  "How many unique visitors did you have last month?" is a good example.  I had 1,668 in June 2008.

The second statistic is "How many comments, on average, do each of your posts get?"  This is a number that can vary greatly from post to post, but it gives you a decent measure of how impactful your posts are on the reading community.  My average is around 2.  Scott Hanselman, for example, is probably up near 20-25.

"How many subscribers do you have?" is the last. This one is important because it’s an indication of the number of people that have added you to their RSS aggregator.  They are the people that want to hear what you have to say, on a daily basis.  I have about 260 subscribers as I write this post.  That means, in a month, there are over 1,400 people that come to my blog, but don’t subscribe.  That’s the reason I’m writing this post.

So here’s my call to action for all of you new to RSS (or those of you that have been putting it off).  Find an aggregator, and subscribe to your favorite blogs.  You can always "unsubscribe" if someone gets on your nerves.  When someone writes something that you enjoyed, let them know with a comment.  If you disagree, let them know that too.  But participate!  That’s the key.

kick it on DotNetKicks.com


6 responses to “RSS is not pronounced Arse…”

  1. John Chapman Avatar
    John Chapman

    Out of curiosity how many of your unique visitors came from Google? Chances are most people read your blog because they were looking for an answer to a specific question right? How many were direct (from a bookmark most likely)?

  2. danshultz Avatar

    Good post – and the Stuff I’ve Read widget makes for a nice sidebar addition too.

  3. Josh Walsh Avatar
    Josh Walsh

    A number of our clients are adverse to implementing RSS because the traffic to their site decreases. They look at me crazy when I tell them to watch the stats on the RSS feed to prove that they are actually more visible because of them.I’ll be pointing them here.

  4. EricMatz Avatar

    I’m a huge fan of RSS. Ten years ago, “Push Technology” was all the rage (anyone remember PointCast?), and that vision seems to have come to fruition without (technically) any “pushing” involved.My only beef is this – keeping my feed list tamed enough for me to keep up with it…and staying away from it when I’m supposed to be doing billable work.Good post, Jeff. Ironically, I had to “visit your website” in order to post this comment. 🙂 If there’s an commenting feature I don’t know about in Google Reader, someone please share!

  5. Nathan Blevins Avatar
    Nathan Blevins

    I agree 100% w/ you. My personal favorite blog reader is FeedDemon. It is a very nice online + desktop app combo and makes keeping up w/ everything every easy. A good way to get started is to share / steal other people’s OPML files so that you can see what other people are reading.

  6. derek hubbard Avatar
    derek hubbard

    Great post Jeff… thanks for the info.

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