I like to describe it as the wave of the future, but I am prone to hyperbole, so people don’t believe me. OK, how about this: RSS is a way that you can have websites you visit tell you when they have some new content, rather than you having to go to those sites and poke around for anything new. So you can forget about bookmarking jillions of sites you want to re-visit, and not have all those “new content alerts” junking up your e-mail inbox. RSS brings you just the new content from only the websites you subscribe to. It’s like a personalized slice of the internet, every time you read your feeds.

That is, you can utilize this miraculous time-saving technology for websites that provide RSS feeds. More and more sites are doing this, as RSS cheerleaders such as myself rant and rave about it until people start to see the beauty of it. Sites that you can subscribe to have those wierd, usually orange, buttons somewhere on them. You’ve seen them:

(Hey, there’s even one of these buttons over near the top left-hand side of the navigational sidebar on every page of this ridiculous blog!) All these buttons ultimately do the same thing. (There is a push to adopt the first one as the standard, to cut down on the confusion.) Unfortunatley, what they sometimes do is open a page of the scariest code you ever saw, which probably puts off a lot of the people brave enough to click on them in the first place. So, when this happens, do not freak out. In fact, don’t even look at it. Just copy the url and close that window. All you need is the address you can paste somewhere.

That somewhere is someplace called an aggregator, or a news reader. Yes, another thing that is unnecessarily puzzling, I know. But the good news is that there are tons of these that are free. Browsers are even integrating them into their product now, so that if you are using the new Firefox, for example, you don’t even need to worry about this copying and pasting of url’s nonsense, you can just click on the RSS button and you’re done.

But separate news readers came first, and do have the advantage of allowing you to read your feeds on any computer. And there are so many free ones, so why not get one? I’ll make it easy for you. I use Bloglines, but you can use whatever one you like the sound of. Sign up, follow the easy instructions for adding feeds, and paste in the url you copied for all that crazy computer code and voila! The next time you log into your news reader, you’ll know at a glance if any new content has been added to that website, and any others you subscibe to. You simply click on the postings you want to read and are magically whisked to the original website.

Nowadays, sometimes when you click on the (usually still) orange button, you get a user-friendly page asking you how you want to subscribe to the feed in question. (This is now the case here at all things WordPress, so I have revised my explanation of “What the Hell is RSS?” accordingly.) This is a nice technological advancement. But is also means that you need to already have either a news reader or be using a browser that supports “live bookmarks”, such as Firefox, or MyYahoo!, etc. Then subscribing to a feed is simply a matter of selecting your preferred RSS reader from a drop-down menu. What could be simpler? If you are at all puzzled, please do not hesitate to contact me personally. I will be delighted to walk you through the process as many times as it takes — via e-mail exchanges, telephone conversations, or in person if at all geographically possible — to properly acquaint you with the wondrous, time-saving, internet management system otherwise known as RSS.

And that is what the hell RSS is. You will notice that I didn’t mention what the letters RSS actually stand for. That is because even the geeks who cooked it up don’t agree on that. And it’s sometimes called XML, so who cares what RSS may or may not stand for? Just try it. You’ll see what I mean…really, I implore you…

(I wrote this description because I was not crazy about any of the other ones I found out there. If you are still mystified, the Medical College of Georgia has a pretty good explanation — just don’t get confused and subscribe to their Health Disparaties Unit blog by mistake! There is also allegedly something out there called “RSS the Oprah Way”, or some such equally horrid-seeming thing, but I am personally not going to investigate whatever that might be.)