Really simple syndication

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1 Introduction

1.1 What is RSS?

RSS is abbreviation for Really Simple Syndication. Informally also called Rich Site Summary. It's a standard way to frequently update works such as blogs, news and other such feeds. An RSS document is prominently called feed or channel. An RSS document contains the content in text format, details about date and time of publishing along with the details of author who published a feed. Basically RSS syndicates content of the sites. RSS is purely written in XML. It shows a simple way of sharing and viewing content. All you need is a RSS reader in your site. If you have RSS aggregator, you can collect data from different sources and view it under one site. It is really light weight and hence it can also be used in hand held devices. RSS readers for iPhones and other PDAs are easily available.

1.2 Why RSS?

There has been tremendous increase in number of web users in past few years. With increasing number of users, the web is flooded with loads of information. To find relevant information from web, user has to browse through many resources and spend ample time in getting to exact information he wants. When it comes to updated information, user constantly needs to check whether latest information has come on web or not. Whenever new information hasn't been updated user tend to waste lot of time going from one page to another. What if the user gets all the information he wants at a same place? What if the user is informed when any information is updated? If something of this sort exists than it may save a user from wasting time and other resources. In such cases RSS is the savior. We can say that in case of RSS information explicitly comes to user instead of user fetching for it. We can say that with RSS information on internet is easily accessible.

1.3 History of RSS

Dave Winer gave birth to RSS by introducing scripting news in 1997. Two years later, another version of scriptNews was launched and Netscape built RSS 0.91. Thus now there were two competitors each trying to prove their worth. In the same year, RSS won the battle and company which developed scriptNews (userLand) got rid of it and started using RSS. After that Netscape stopped developing RSS. In year 2000, UserLand releases official RSS 0.91 specification. Gradually in 2000 a group at O'Reilly developed RSS 1.0. It used RDF and namespaces. It was completely different that 0.91 and had no strings attached. On the other hand, Dave Winer developed RSS 0.92 in continuation to his RSS 0.91. Two years later Dave Winer left UserLand and developed RSS 2.0. In year 2003 official RSS 2.0 specification was released. Thus finally RSS was officially released. This format of RSS was very clear with goal of simplicity and was extensible. It was defined in a way that it could be easily implemented and offered possibilities for extension. Here basically XML and namespaces are used. (RSS History)

1.4 Benefits of using RSS

The ease and flexibility of use lead RSS to be very popular amongst the masses. There are many visible advantages of RSS from user as well as developer's point of view. The developer is the publisher in terms of RSS. Publisher makes the data visible in feed available. Whereas the user who needs data is called subscriber who adds the feed needed to his feed reader. Thus just by adding the feed to the feed reader, user can get updates of regular basis. Thus I will list several benefits from subscriber's as well as publisher's point of view.

  • It is very convenient when we want change in content of some website to reflect into our website. This updating of data based on other website is called syndicating data. Using RSS it becomes extremely
  • If a webmaster likes an article of web and feels that it can be informative or important for his own site, then he will have to copy paste the content in his HTML site and then again upload it to the server. But in case of RSS its matter of just two three clicks. Thus it decreases useless efforts up to great extent.
  • Initially when it was introduced, only few used RSS. As any new technology, RSS also took some time being popular. Revolution for RSS came only when big companies like Google started providing support for RSS. Google introduced Google reader and this gave a boom for RSS. After some time RSS became so popular that, people were all for it. Internet explorer used to be very famous in ancient time. But it dint support RSS. So huge mass started using other browsers. Then IE had to include RSS in its 7.0 version to lure back the users who had stopped using the browser.
  • There has been huge competition lately. As in, everybody has started inculcating RSS in their business website with the fear that their competitors would include before them. It's a new and innovative way to market your product. It has huge scope in the world of marketing too.
  • RSS is most prominently used by subscribers to get latest news and updated information without much struggle. It is really easy for them to get desired news just by subscribing for the feed from preferred publisher. It is good news for a publisher too! Because he will not have to make additional effort to spread his word when he publishes something new. Thus we can clearly see it is WIN-WIN situation for both publisher as well as subscriber.
  • You can make your content appear on thousands of website just by a single click. When you are sleeping, your data will reach several sites without any input from your side. This makes task easy for publisher and spares the trouble of locating various sites, adding the content and making it visible to the mass. Thus here we can say that RSS is hugely beneficial.
  • Also feeds appear to user in a user friendly manner. The feeds which are new and unread are marked in bold letters. Once that page has been visited, the bold mark goes away so that next time when user turns up, he get all the new feeds in bold mark.
  • The ease of use is another striking benefit of RSS. One can sign up for the feed anonymously without giving any details about himself/herself. One can do it quickly and without any hassles. Also one can prevent their email id to float on the web by not giving it anywhere and everywhere for some information.
  • Whenever subscriber feels that feeds are no longer of his/her use, they can simply delete feeds from the feed reader.
  • This also lightens the hazards of getting junk mails and spam mails for searching information.
  • We can say feeds indirectly helps user in exploring more information and whenever user wants. As user will save time in looking for information, he can easily spare more time in looking at more information.

The most important feature of RSS which was lately introduced by Harvard School was CLOUD. What if user wants to get current information at the same time? In some cases, delay in one second can be a great loss for a person. In such cases, we might feel that RSS aggregator will have to go and fetch for data every second. Will it create an extra load on server? It surely will. So RSS community came up with new innovation to solve this problem. Here a workstation calls cloud register. It takes as much as five parameters to get the message. Parameters include: name if procedure that cloud should call to notify workstation of any changes, TCP port workstation is listening to, string telling which protocol to use and list of URLs to be watched for any changes. The cloud returns true if it could get some new information. Thus on getting TRUE in return indicates that there is new information available from particular source. Thus whenever channel is activated to get desired changes, cloud returns only one URL which has been updated. Here the workstation has to register every 24 hours to get the latest update. Thus registering every 24 hours will lead to latest information access at fingertips. (Soap Meets RSS)

1.5 Background and how RSS got frozen

RSS Community to ensure the stability of the RSS 2.0 even though they knew the presence of certain drawbacks had frozen the technology purposely. This action was also required to bring about further innovative changes and help growth of the technologies surrounding it in the industry. The drawbacks will be discussed in the later section of the report.

2 Introduction to Atom

Atom is an XML language used for web content and metadata syndication. It is also an application protocol that can be used to publish and edit web resources that belong to periodically updated websites. It's concise, accurate, unambiguous, and contains the right amount of illustrative detail. Its real intention was to be able to have a fresh innovative design and to overcome the lack of innovation and backward compatibility in RSS

The existing RSS 1.0 and 2.0 formats couldn't able to meet all the demands of the ever growing technology. A development team volunteered to develop a format that can overcome the limitations identified in RSS.

One of the key differences between RSS and Atom is that Atom's design process has been kept open on the Atom Wiki.

2.1 Drawbacks with RSS and how Atom fulfils the deficiencies

RSS is a very widely used concept, but at the same time it also has its pitfalls, mainly being that it is very difficult to parse and earlier it was difficult to use as well. The RSS specification as mentioned earlier needed to be made precise and at the same time be able to support the software that consumes the feeds. But because of the imprecise specifications it froze. But in spite of these problems it did open new doors for websites to share their content to larger audience.

Some of the problems that add to the drawbacks of RSS are

  • Many people even today prefer to read a news entry in detail thus access the actual website that has the details contents of the RSS feed/news entry thus in a way RSS increases the demands and traffic on the server.
  • Also if a publisher wants to improve his marketing strategy or decide regarding his advertisements, RSS is not useful as it does not show who subscribed to a news feed, the number of times the feed was visited or if anybody unsubscribed from any particular feed.
  • Another issue with RSS feed is that it needs to be kept running or being refreshed every now and then , it looses its importance and utility in regards to its subscribers as well as to be favoured by the various search engines.
  • In the RSS feed the reader does not know where exactly is the content of the feed located as the name of the website is not mentioned neither is the URL of the website so the identity of the source of the content is not quite clear. It is a great way to promote the developers website on the search engines but at the same time the person viewing the feed might not actually visit the original website.
  • Some people prefer being mailed the feeds rather than having them to be accessed otherwise.
  • Also feeds sometimes do not support uploading graphics or photos for the convenience of publication as well as to keep the brevity but there are always exceptions of certain web aggregators.
  • There are also problems replying back to the feeds because sometimes the option of commenting on the feed might not be available but even though if that is present the subscriber will have to link out of the RSS reader and then be able to locate to the feed's original web interface. Also comments on the feeds are not necessarily distributed to everybody which may be preferred by many but limits the exchange of ideas

· Nevertheless the issues related to saving the feeds, comments and also issues concerning spam and spyware are always a concern.

2.2 How Atom overcomes limitations?

Atom in a lot of ways has helped get over some of the limitations of the RSS.

  • Sending back search results snippets over RSS is one thing. Syndicating rich search content is an entirely different thing, and that requires a non-lossy syndication format which i provided but Atom.
  • In RSS the website or its URL is not known to the reader which is possible to be retrieved using Autodiscovery in Atom. Autodiscovery has never been standardized due to the fact that its implementation relies on an unregistered MIME type (application/rss+xml). But the Auto discovery feature of Atom has been standardized as it relies on a registered MIME type (application/atom+xml).
  • It can indicate when the feeds were created as well as when the last updating took place.
  • It provides various types of payload types as well as video streams and graphics.
  • Atom is very modular in its structure as it allows its syntax o be reused outside its feed documents unlike the RSS which has very restricted vocabularies.

2.3 RSS vs. Atom

This heavy competition in the website syndication area leads to a problematic confusion for both, the programmers and readers.Major differences of consideration between the two xml files are:


RSS 2.0 lacks indication of the payload contained while Atom provides a way to label the type of content with a broad variety like plain text, escaped HTML, XML external content references such as media and external documents.


RSS can indicate the language for the feed but cannot specify it for individual items or text elements while Atom uses a standardized xml::lang to specify every human readable content in the feed.


RSS vocabulary elements cannot generally be reused, other XML while Atom supports reusability outside the context of an atom feed document.

Format flexibility:

RSS recognizes only a document while Atom allows linking and standalone feed entries.


RSS supports only standard web encryption techniques, while Atom allows encryption using XML Encryption or XML Digital Signature.


Atom can be integrated into other XML documents without any name conflicts due to the namespace Atom contents can also be added to the RSS 2.0 feed without collision.


RSS loses major credit on the copyright issue and thus no one can contribute to the further development to upgrade the format, while any one can offer ideas on Atom since it is a freely available format.

Auto Discovery:

Atom standardizes auto discovery so the news readers can auto-subscribe. This makes it easier for the viewers to subscribe to auto-detect facilities, while RSS uses a non-standard auto discovery variant. (Brazell) (Sood)

2.4 Barriers that caused Atom to fail even though it was advanced than RSS 2.0

  • Firstly a lot of websites that use ATOM will use RSS as well because of its popularity.
  • Due to the existence of earlier RSS, sites which started providing feeds in Atom, also provided the same Feed in RSS to avoid losing previous subscribers.
  • A lot of websites owe their popularity to their standard format that they have always followed which was RSS previous to Atom and they want to keep it that way to avoid any inconvenience to its regular readers. Thus they exclusively use RSS. E.g. CNN, BBC
  • RSS has helped the innovation of podcasting so it remains popular in that category as well in spite of use of Atom.
  • Even though big companies like Google have embraced Atom, RSS still remains popular in most of the applications.
  • The RSS name itself has a noteworthy effect that some people may not be aware or even consider opting for another syndication format.
  • The version numbering Atom 1.0 might make people think of it a less advanced format as compared to RSS 2.0.

Thus even today RSS 2.0 due to its popularity and wide spread use is a big contender to Atom 1.0 and has invigorated and survived in many sectors. (Wikipedia - Atom)

3 RSS or Atom

New technologies give us more options while selecting the right method. Here,

On the programmer's side, Atom provides a better flexibility and offers more options for creating various web applications than RSS. On the other hand, RSS has been longer and thus more popular which adds to its benefit. Readers using RSS also do not require reader-update, to support Atom.

On the viewer's side, Atom and RSS specifications may not be extremely important for simple applications, as in either case, visitors will be able to read feeds. But now, RSS still remains the Internet standard by providing link images and videos, dissolving the unique advantage of using Atom protocol for Web syndication.

Feed reader soft wares need to as well provide support for both RSS and Atom and those which do not, users can convert feed at to either formats.

Hence, with the ease of support, we see a competitive coexistence, until may be, the growth of a super-syndication technology to suppress both of them.

However, the main intention was to allow developers build applications for web syndication. (Blogger Buster)

5.1 The XML Declaration

It is recommended that Atom 1.0 documents have an XML declaration.

5.2 The feed Element

The feed element is the document element of an Atom 1.0 feed format document. It has a requiredversion attribute. And it must have a namespace declaration specifying either the default namespaceor associating a namespace prefix with the Atom 1.0 namespace.

The child elements of the feed element are the head element, of which there can be only one, and one ormore entry elements. The first child element of the feed element must be a head element.

5.2.1 The head Element

The head element is a container for metadata about the feed. The metadata is contained in several childelements of head, as follows:

  • The title element contains a human readable title for the information feed. The title elementhas no attributes.
  • The link element indicates a link to the source of the feed. At the time of writing the link elementis not fully specified. It seems likely that the link element will have rel, type, and hrefattributes but the current draft does not make that clear. If a link is to an HTML or XHTMLWebpage then that page should implement the Atom Feed Autodiscovery mechanism, describedlater in this chapter.
  • The introspection and post elements are service constructs. They are used in connectionwith the Atom Publishing Protocol described later in this chapter.
  • The author and contributor elements are also child elements of the head element.
  • The tagline element contains a human-readable description or tagline for the feed. The id elementcontains a unique identifier for the feed.
  • The generator element indicates the software used to generate the feed. The generator elementmay, optionally, have an uri and a version attribute.
  • The copyright element contains a human-readable statement of copyright for the feed. Theinfo element contains a human-readable statement about the feed format. The updated elementcontains a date/time value that indicates the most recent time that the feed was updated.

5.2.2 The entry Element

The entry document can appear as a child element of the feed element (which is described in thissection) or can be the document element of an Atom Entry document (which is described later in thischapter).

The entry element has the following child elements:

  • The title element is required. It contains a human-readable title for the entry.
  • The link element conveys a URI associated with the entry. At least one link element with arel attribute with the value of alternate must be present on each entry.
  • The edit element is used in association with the Atom Publishing Protocol. It represents a URIthat can be used to retrieve the entry for editing.
  • The author and contributor elements contain information about the principal author of anentry and about any other contributors to the content of an entry.
  • The id element contains a unique identifier for an entry.
  • The updated element contains a date/time value that specifies when the entry was mostrecently updated.
  • The published element contains a date/time value; typically it would indicate when the entrywas first published or made available for download.
  • The summary element contains a brief summary of the entry or an extract from the entry.
  • The content element may contain the text content of the entry or may be an empty elementthat references a URI from which the content can be retrieved. Optionally, the content elementhas a type and a src attribute.

· The copyright element contains a copyright statement about the entry. The origin elementcontains a URI reference to the original source of the entry. (Danny Ayers, 2005)

7 Challenges faced by RSS/Atom

RSS/Atom feeds provide great facilities for the user by fetching fresh content and promoting your site to site engineers, but they possess potential drawbacks as well.

Loose source identity:

Feed viewers may avoid visiting the webpage further. However, it depends on the marketing strategy and the incompleteness of information provided in the feed that may lure more viewers.

Regular Updates:

Feeds require regular updates to provide subscribers with fresh content, and also to gain favor with search engines.

Traffic congestion:

Regular feed updates create higher traffic and demands on the server and most readers still prefer the whole update over a brief summary of the entry, thus they still access the site.

New technology:

Since it is a new technology, many sites still do not support RSS and users also need time to develop an addiction and change the older concept of email updates. (TechTreak) (All Business)

8 Conclusion

Though, over all this technology has added a lot of simplicity to the viewers by reducing the hard work of bookmarking favorite sites and checking for updates manually. Earlier, users used to maintain a list of bookmarks and check them regularly for updates. This was a very complicated and mechanical procedure, as viewers could miss out on updates if they forgot to keep track of all the bookmarks at the same time.

Thus, all the hard work is done by Atom and RSS!

9 Works Cited

  • All Business. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  • Blogger Buster. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  • Bray, T. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  • Brazell, A. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  • Danny Ayers, A. W. (2005). Beginning RSS and Atom Programming. Indianapolis: Wiley Publishing, Inc.
  • RSS History. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  • Soap Meets RSS. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  • Sood, V. (n.d.). IIS Blogs. Retrieved from
  • TechTreak. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  • Wikipedia - Atom. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  • Winer, J. (n.d.). RSSBoard. Retrieved from
  • Winer, J. (n.d.). RSSBoard. Retrieved from