Well, I’ve somewhat belatedly found out about RSS. This stands for Really Simple Syndication (or Rich Site Summary, depending on who you’re asking). This is a XML-based file format that is becoming popular for automatically distributing news or weblog posts. As with nearly everything on the Internet, there are two sides to RSS: server (generator) or client (reader).

Let’s look at the RSS reader side first. I’m using NetNewsWire Lite for Mac OS X, written by Brent Simmons at Ranchero Software. This sort of software is also known as a “news aggregator”.

Basically, you go to a news site or weblog you’d like to read daily (or even hourly). If you’re lucky, you’ll see a red tag, just like the one at the top of this page; some pages have a simple “Syndicate” link instead. Copy the tag or link’s URL from your browser, switch to NetNewsWire, use the “Subscribe” command, and paste the URL into the subscription dialog. From now on, NetNewsWire will check that site (and all others you’ve subscribed to) every hour or so, and if it finds new news items or weblog entries it shows you a list. You can read summaries right there or have the full items opened in your browser.

To make a long story short, I’m now subscribed to over 60 news sites and about the same number of weblogs, and save at least an hour every day! No more sitting at the browser and selecting dozens of bookmarks, one after the other… or at least, the number of sites I do this for has shrunk considerably. I find myself forgetting to check sites which don’t have a aRSS feed.

Now let’s jump to the generator side of RSS. In my case, I’m interested in making it easier for people to read my weblog. Many important bloggers don’t have time to read non-RSS sites, so generating RSS is a big step in getting to play with the big boys.

Ready-made blogging software which runs on your own server, like Movable Type, Radio Userland and Blosxom (to name a few), usually have RSS generation capability built right in. Centralized systems like Blogger usually don’t, although I hear Blogger Pro has an experimental RSS generator.

In my case, I’m using phpBB which is more bulletin-board-oriented; I’ve hacked it to use it as a weblog generator, too. So now I’ve spent a week or so putting in RSS generation capability (and updating to 2.0.4 while I was at it). There still are some nits to pick, but it works now. At least NetNewsWire reads my feed with no problems, and the RSS Validator says I’m generating valid RSS/XML.