What are Web Feeds?

A Web feed is used extensively on the Web especially for those who own a blog. They provide a means to distribute the contents of a Web site to subscribers. There are, however, two main types of feeds that can be used to send the sequentially and updated content from a Web site. This post will describe the two feed types and how someone can use them.


The RSS (Really Simple Syndication) (RSS 2.0) feed started out first as Rich Site Summary (RSS 0.91), which then became RDF Site Summary (RSS 1.0 and RSS 0.90). All formats are specified using XML.

The first version of RSS was first used in March 1999 on the My Netscape portal and has since been modified by various people and corporations. This has led to some incompatibilities and issues between the various versions, which I won’t go into detail here.


The second popular type of Web feed is the Atom feed. Similar to RSS feeds, Atom feeds are also specified in XML. This type of feed was developed because of the many incompatible versions of RSS feeds.

The Atom feed has gone through two versions: 0.3 in December 2003 and 1.0 in December 2005.


Many blogs and other Web sites have the ability to publish both RSS and Atom feeds. When content on a Web site is updated, the publishers send out the feeds with the updated content in sequential order to their subscribers. This provides an automated method for the subscribers to read the new content from many different Web sites without actually visiting each one. This automated process is known as syndication.


Imagine you enjoy reading the content on 20 different Web sites, and visit all 20 each day to read any updates. After a while you would probably be tired of visiting that many Web sites each day. With syndication you don’t have to because the content comes to you.

Syndication is the process of automatically receiving a Web feed (RSS or Atom) from a Web site. All you need is a news reader that would automatically check the Web sites that you choose for new content. In the case from above, the news reader will check 20 Web sites for updates. Only the updated content is downloaded, so if only 5 sites have updated their content, you will only receive content from those 5 sites.


With the advent of RSS and Atom Web feeds, the information from Web sites has never been easier to receive. You can automatically receive information from any Web site that provides a Web feed provided you have a reader. In turn, it also is easier for publishers to send updated content to their subscribers simply by converting that content into an RSS or Atom feed.

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