By Trudy W. Schuett
RSS is the element that makes a blog different from the old-style static website. The initials stand for 'Really Simple Syndication' (also Rich Site Summary - pick the one you like). What it does is announce changes to the website by creating a "feed" that can be read by the spider from an aggregator such as Bloglines or NewsGator.
An aggregator keeps track of your links to favorite blogs, much like the bookmarks section of your browser. It's different than a bookmarks section, because the aggregator can alert you to the frequent updates to blogs, which your browser can't do.
A spider is an automated program that seeks out RSS feeds available on the Internet.
Your blog content can be read (in plain English by people) in the aggregator, or they can choose to visit your site. Your feed is available to anyone who uses an aggregator, so your readership can be alerted automatically each time you update. There are already a few million people using aggregators (nobody knows the exact number), and those who are actively looking for new blogs will already have one. So when you establish a new blog, all you need to do is tell your friends who don't have aggregators to start using one.
Making RSS Work for You
When choosing a blog host, it's important to make sure an RSS feed is available. There are some hosts that market their offering as a blog when in fact, with no RSS feed, all you've got is a static website that can be easily updated.
What a ping does is announce to the aggregator that there's new material in your blog. That gets your update alert to your readers much faster than waiting for a spider to work.
You need to know if your host automatically pings the aggregators when you create a new post, and which ones, if they do. For example, you can configure a blog to automatically ping weblogs.com and blo.gs.com. TBlogs pings blo.gs.com automatically, with no effort on your part, while Blog-City leaves the issue entirely up to the individual, whether they want to ping or not.
Some aggregators require prior registration with their directory to accept your ping, so it's a good idea to register your blog with as many of the your blog will qualify for.
When you ping an aggregator, you're placing your feed ahead of the others who don't ping. So in order to get the widest exposure, pinging a variety of aggregators is right now the best way to go. You can do this easily and quickly at Dougal Campbell's Blog Service Pinger. You enter your site's URL and check the aggregators you want from several on the list. You need to do this each time you update if your blog doesn't ping automatically. Note: Once you've clicked submit at the BSP, resist the impulse to click again if it doesn't respond immediately. Another click sends another ping and you'll end up with an error message.
If you aren't looking for a wide readership.
Some people don't care to promote their sites, although if the RSS feed is there, the spiders from various aggregators will find these sites eventually. If you're serious about not wanting anyone else to see your material, don't put it online in a blog. You can limit access to a blog using a password protection mechanism, when there are a few people with whom you want to share the material. But, that is not 100% secure.
Promotion aspects of RSS
The RSS feed is a helpful component of weblog promotion. If you only want a limited readership, it can be all you need to alert a small group of readers of your blog updates. If you are looking to have your blog read by as many people as possible, however, you need to do more than just provide RSS feeds if you're looking to be the next Instapundit.
Trudy W. Schuett is a freelance writer and blog evangelist, who maintains five blogs on a variety of subjects.