How to read RSS (as promised)

/

A subscription — be it an email subscription or a feed subscription — is often how blogs, webzines and other content sites define conversion. After I wrote my post to Joel, talking about things he wasn’t doing right in his effort to to convert his readers to be RSS subscribers, a couple of people asked me, “How would you write an explanation of what RSS is?” So here goes.

What is RSS? Well, you really don’t care, do you now? All that matters is what it can do for you and how to make it work for you.

RSS Features. We’re going to refer to RSS by the more generic term, “feeds,” since RSS and its cousins will feed information to your desktop, much like a subscription to an email marketing newsletter feeds information to your inbox. Feeds bear another similarity to email: you need a place to read them, like Outlook, Eudora, your gmail account. Ditto for feeds: you can read them in software (that’s one of the reasons I like Thunderbird, I can read both my email and my feeds in one place) or you can establish a free account with the many webservices for reading feeds, such as Bloglines.

So it’s just like email, right? No, there are many differences.

  • Your feeds will never be subject to your corporate spam filter.
  • When you subscribe, you don’t have to give out your email address and fear that it will be abused.
  • If you subscribe to an email newsletter, the publisher always knows about you, and you have to work to be anonymous. But when you subscribe to a feed, you really are anonymous.
  • Being anonymous also means you can unsubscribe from feeds published by your friends without hurting their feelings.
  • I haven’t been staying on top of the “charge to charge” for email by AOL and Yahoo! but I hear it is coming. Feeds won’t be part of that financial project.

So how does someone make it happen? Remember that you need a place to read your feeds, just like you need a place to read your email. (see RSS Features, above.) Once you’ve got that set up, find a feed you are interested in. You will usually see an icon (often orange) with the words, Subscribe, or XML or RSS or just Get The Feed. Click on it, copy the Internet address bar of the next screen you get, paste that into wherever your feed reader wants it, and you are in business.

Usually.

Robbin Steif
LunaMetrics

Our owner and CEO, Robbin Steif, started LunaMetrics twelve years ago. She is a graduate of Harvard College and the Harvard Business School, and has served on the Board of Directors for the Digital Analytics Association. Robbin is a winner of a BusinessWomen First award, as well as a recent Diamond Award for business leadership. You should read her letter before you decide to work with us.

  • Anonymous

    Nice summation Robbin! I’ve previously tended to focus on the “it’s a plain text file, that you request that holds info about a web site. How you use a feed depends on your reader….”

    I prefer the email style myself, tho thru a specialised reader. Mostly. T’bird for the few feeds I read at work.

    The part I would disagree with is the claim of anonymity. That’s pretty much not true. Tho “it depends” as well.

    Why?

    Well it revolves around the principle fact that a user likes what you have to offer on a site such that they feel it worthwhile to want to see updates on a regular basis.
    So this means that someone who subscribes to a feed has left tracks on the site already.

    Now feeds are typically updated automatically, and usually on a regular, like clockwork basis.
    I recall reading one article a few years ago about a CNN or Cnet or one of the larger news sites saying that while RSS was great for driving additional traffic the *huge* spike on the hour every hour as a whole bunch of readers all updated simultaneously caused major, unforseen, troubles for their early infrastructure.

    So this regularity can be a large clue. As can the client (think agent). And the clients IP Address. Despite the posibility of dynamic IP addresses. Most non-dialup users tend to be pretty static.

    Now armed with all the above and some knowledge of regex’s and the ability to slice and dice logs you can find a *LOT* about a person.

    If you yourself have access to the raw logs for your blog, you should be able to:

    * find my ip address, possibly already attached to this comment. Date/time stamps help otherwise. You can even estimate my typing speed. 🙂

    * Given that, you should be able to discover my country (easy) & City: harder.

    * Going at it differently, you should be able to extract my full name. At least one of my email addresses, probably more.
    * You should be able to find my personal web site and because it’s more for family & friend: photos of myself etc.
    * Armed with that, you should be able to identify a lot of what I’ve been doing in previous years, where I currently work and possibly even my previous employers.

    I could go on, but I suspect you get the idea. 🙂

    The other part, is that you can go back and track thru your own logs and see where a person went and what they did. That can, in and of itself, expose a great deal about a person.
    Tho this depends on what the site is for and what it serves up or how.
    Think: if you’re an ecommerce style site, they may have bought something. You can now tie a feed-reader to a name and physical address.

    No you are not anonymous. Additionally writing as someone who has done several forensic investigations: You may have the illusion of being anonymous but do not truely have it.

    It’s actually extremely difficult, legally, to be truely anonymous on the Internet.

    Steve

  • http://www.orginalcd.com C.D

    i will add this site to my favorite list because of it’s great articles.
    can you publish or refer about this in french language?

  • http://www.ausfuhrung.com Postureman

    I also think that it’s a plain text file, that you request that holds info about a web site. How you use a feed depends on your reader….

  • http://www.unisoftchina.com Effie

    A subscription — be it an email subscription or a feed subscription — is often how blogs, webzines and other content sites define conversion. After I wrote my post to Joel, talking about things he wasn’t doing right in his effort to to convert his readers to be RSS subscribers, a couple of people asked me, “How would you write an explanation of what RSS is?” So here goes.

Contact Us.

LunaMetrics

24 S. 18th Street, Suite 100,
Pittsburgh, PA 15203

Follow Us

1.877.220.LUNA

1.412.381.5500

getinfo@lunametrics.com

Questions?
We'll get back to you
in ONE business day.