What It Is
RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication (among other things). It is a Web content format which, when used with an RSS aggregator, can allow you to alert users to new or exciting content on your website. These news feeds enable users to avoid the conventional methods of browsing or searching for information on websites. Now the content they want is delivered directly to them.
RSS feeds are commonly used on weblogs (blogs), news web sites and other places with frequently updated content. Once users subscribe to an RSS feed, they can gather material from Web sites of their choosing. It’s a very convenient format because it allows users to view all the new content from multiple sources in one location on their desktop.
Why It's Important
- Web users are finding RSS (along with podcasts) to be a very efficient method for keeping up with current news that interests them.
- RSS saves users from having to repeatedly visit favorite websites to check for new content or be notified of updates via email. Instead, article summaries are delivered directly to them. They can choose to visit the websites when the RSS feeds contain summaries that look interesting.
- It is now very common to find RSS feeds on most major web sites, as well as many smaller ones.
- More and more government agencies are using RSS to increase awareness of government information.
- Adopting new communication channels leads to better communication with the public.
- RSS can allow government agencies to more easily track updates to each other’s content. This offers potential for increased collaboration and information sharing between agencies that could reduce duplication and inconsistencies across government websites.
- The process for developing an RSS feed is relatively simple and inexpensive.
As you can see, there are many benefits to using RSS feeds. However, as with other technology, you need to offer alternative means to view the material if the technology is not widely available or accessible.
Specific Policy, Legal, or Other Requirements for Doing This
There are no specific requirements for government agencies to use RSS. It’s an emerging technology that agencies can consider as an alternative way to quickly deliver news and information.
How to Implement
Creating an RSS feed is not very difficult. It’s simply a text file written in a special XML format that you place on your website. Visitors will then add the URL of the XML file to their aggregation software. Once added, the user’s software will notify them whenever you update the feed.
You’ll need some specialized software before you get started.
Determine the content
First, you need to figure out what type of content will be most effective and relevant to your audience via an RSS feed. Content that is updated fairly frequently (e.g., weekly) is best suited for RSS Feeds. When selecting content, keep in mind that RSS users will download the latest RSS entry every time the content is updated.
Generate the RSS feed
There are several ways to create RSS feeds in the necessary XML format. The easiest way is to have a content management system (CMS) generate the RSS feed in XML. Using a CMS will ensure that the feed is updated whenever the relevant content is changed. If you don’t have a CMS, there are tools you can download that will help you create the XML code, or you can create the code yourself in any text editor.
Assign a well-recognized URL
There’s not yet a standard URL naming convention for RSS pages. However, many sites use “agencyname.gov/rss”.
The benefit of using standard URLs and common terminology is that it helps the public find information and services across government and other websites.
Post the RSS feed on your website
Most agencies that have developed RSS feeds link to them from their homepage. If you have multiple RSS feeds on your website, you should compile them on one central page and link to that from your homepage.
Examples of Agencies that Have Implemented RSS Feeds
USA.gov Library of Government RSS Feeds—USA.gov compiled a list of government agencies that offer RSS feeds, which is updated regularly. So check out what other agencies are doing. The list also gives the public a central place where they can find the ever increasing number of government RSS feeds, without having to search through thousands of individual agency websites.
(See our disclaimer for non-government links)
National Weather Service RSS Feed Requirements and Specifications
(PDF, 125 KB, 16 pages, May 2006)
- Read more about RSS — Brookhaven National Laboratories (Dept. of Energy) offers a good overview of RSS feeds, how to create them, and how to learn more
- Feed Validator (for Atom and RSS and KML) — a website to help you validate your RSS feeds
- Podcasting — similar to RSS, podcasts offer a way to quickly disseminate information to the public, via audio broadcasts