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RSS

RSS, or Really Simple Syndication, is the engine behind the podcasting phenomenon. The RSS standard is what enabled the relatively simple proliferation and dissemination of podcasts throughout the world. RSS is defined as a standard set of tools for the purpose of allowing frequent updates for content on the World Wide Web. In short, RSS is a XML-based format for content distribution over the World Wide Web. Using RSS, a Webmaster (or podcaster) can place content on a Web log or podcast Web site in such a way that news or podcast aggregators (programs that search for new content) can grab the fresh content in a concise manner.

What the heck is XML? XML stands for Extensible Markup Language. First, you need to know what a markup language is. A markup language combines text and extra information about the text into a file that can be used to perform a function. A good example of a markup language is HTML (Hypertext Markup Language), which is the backbone of every page on the World Wide Web. Extensible Markup Language (XML) is designed to help mediate the sharing of data across different kinds of systems, such as those present on the Internet. In summary, XML is a type of language that allows information to flow freely through different systems across the Internet without difficulty.


RSS means that consumers can use programs like iPodder or HappyFish and have them scour hundreds of podcast Web sites in minutes, downloading only what is new on those sites. In this manner, RSS has revolutionized the way information is disseminated, and that includes podcasts. For podcasters, RSS allows them to place the podcast out on the Web for millions of people to access. For consumers, RSS allows them to have access to a nearly unlimited amount of content while saving them from having to look for the content one item at a time.

A Brief History of RSS

Really Simple Syndication was originally designed by Netscape back in 1999. Eventually, Dave Winder added features to RSS, including the Scripting News SML format. In 2002, RSS 2.0 was proposed, and that is the standard used today. RSS 2.0 is published under a Creative Commons license at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.


From an actual line-by-line explanation of an RSS enclosure to a tutorial on how to create your own, this section delves into the nitty-gritty of the Really Simple Syndication standard and how it works. I need to point out that there are entire books (many of them, in fact) that cover just RSS and how it works. That said, I will attempt to give you enough information to feel comfortable with the format and to use it on a basic level for podcast publishing. If you want to learn more about RSS online, check out the Berkman Center site at http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/tech/rss.

In the following sections, I first go through the process of creating an RSS file for a podcasting feed. Then I list the completed file with an explanation of each and every line in the file. By following through these two sections, you will have a decent understanding of how RSS works. The example I set out can even be a template for your own RSS file.

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