Weblogs have proliferated so quickly that Merriam-Webster's made "blog" its word of the year for 2004. But how can anyone hope to keep up with all the information published at these personal sites, not to mention the many blogs and wikis they may be required to read at work? One answer is RSS, or Really Simple Syndication, which allows readers to track blog updates and many other kinds of published information.
Readers can subscribe to blogs, wikis and other publications that include an RSS tag (a bit of code that most blog software includes automatically) with a single click of a mouse. Then, each new update appears in a window on the readers' own Web browsers. Like blogs and wikis, RSS is a streamlined version of a familiar technologyin this case, the "push" applications that were supposed to remake Web surfing a few years back. "RSS is in fact push technology, but this time it's been adopted by millions of people," says Sun Microsystems Inc. technology director Tim Bray.
RSS technology is already hitting the big time. Large media companies, including the BBC and CNN, are using RSS to push their content past the clutter of the Web. So is Sony Music, which feeds subscribers information about its recording artists. "Anything that produces information at unpredictable intervals almost has to have an RSS feed," says Bray. "Who has time to run around and find stuff?" Whether the stuff in question is a BBC headline on a big cricket match, or an audio file (known as a "podcast," since many are loaded onto Apple Computer Inc.'s popular iPod) from National Public Radio, or the latest version of your workgroup's project wiki, now it comes straight to you.
RSS readers that display the particular feeds a reader has subscribed to can be downloaded for free and run in popular Web browsers. Portal sites such as Yahoo! have also started building them into their news pages. Over time, users get accustomed to reading Web pages of all kinds without leaving their own news aggregators, says Forrester Research Inc. analyst Charlene Li. That in turn helps push blogs into the mainstream. "People who read them won't necessarily think of them as blogs, but as regular Web pages seen on an RSS feed."
Inside a corporation, RSS could allow people to track updates on internal blogs about a given project, or to follow news about a particular product from external news sources. As with blogs and wikis, the IT issues are more cultural than technological; there are a couple of different syndication standards, but they are largely interchangeable and readable with the same browser-based applications. CIOs can probably have the biggest impact by making sure their internal publications support RSS feeds, so that the information can be pushed out to readers.