// Internet Duct Tape

How to Explain RSS to Normal People – 2008 Edition

Posted in Building a Community, Facebook, Humor, RSS Syndication, Ruby, Technology by engtech on February 28, 2008

Social Software and You

As a geek who enjoys spending too much time on the internet, I like RSS almost as much as delicious toast. As a blogger, RSS is the shiznitz because it lets you consume a lot more information and it makes it easier for other people to read your blog without having to drop by every few days to see if you’ve written something new.

For something so useful, it’s pretty hard to explain why people should use RSS. Lots of people try to do it. This is my take on it. It’s 2008 and explaining RSS should be much simpler because if you’ve used Facebook, then you’ve used RSS.

RSS for Normal People (who use Facebook)

engtech: You should use RSS while web surfing. It makes things easier to keep track of what’s going on around the web.

the_dude: This doesn’t have anything to do with Ruby, does it?

engtech: No, they aren’t related.

the_dude: That’s good. That Ruby stuff is making you weird man. You get this weird look in your eyes when you talk about it.


the_dude: And it’s like you can’t stop talking about it. You bring it up at the weirdest times. And there’s the shirt. Your shirt is kinda creeping me out, man.

ruby makes me happy

the_dude: So what’s RSS?

engtech: Ever used Facebook?

the_dude: Only every day for the past few months. I love me some Scrabilicious.

*the_dude bites engtech*

the_dude: Now you’re a zombie!


engtech: You know that screen that shows up after you login? The one that shows you what your friends have been up to?

the_dude: The update page?

engtech: It’s called the news feed.

the_dude: Yeah! That’s how I found out Amy broke up with her boyfriend and I was able to swoop in for da kill.

*the_dude does the victory dance*

engtech: How’s that going?

the_dude: 10 months bro.

engtech: Sweet. You could have had a baby by now.

the_dude: Not for lack of trying!

*the_dude nudge nudge wink winks*

engtech: So that news feed thing is RSS in a nutshell.

the_dude: Eh?

Facebook *IS* RSS

engtech: That’s all RSS is. It collects pieces of information from different websites and brings them all together in one spot. Check this out.

Friends Feed is Facebook for the Internet

the_dude: Kitteh! What Facebook app is that? It looks like the “news feed”.

engtech: That’s not part of Facebook. That’s another site called Friend Feed. It does the same thing as the Facebook news feed, but with any site on the internet. RSS is like glue that lets any website send news that other websites can read.

the_dude: I haven’t heard of those Facebook apps. Tumblr? Reddit? Digg?

engtech: Those aren’t Facebook apps. They’re different websites. You don’t have to login to Facebook to read them. They’re out there in the great wilds of the Internet. They’re outside of Facebook.

the_dude: Man, internet people are horrible spellers. What’s up with those website names?

engtech: Web2.0 means spell check is optional.

the_dude: You spend a lot of time surfing the web.

engtech: As much time as you spend playing Scrabilicious?

the_dude: Point taken. So I can see why you like it, cuz you visit tons of sites a day. Why should I care?

engtech: RSS is a way for websites to send out updates, which means you can subscribe to websites.

the_dude: Can’t I do that with an email newsletters? I hate those. I never read them. Why do they always send them to people? !@#$ing junk mail.

engtech: RSS is exactly like those email newsletters. Except instead of clogging up your email you can use a special program called an RSS reader to read them. Google makes a good one. It lets you keep track of all the sites you read with one application.

engtech: And it isn’t junk mail, since it only tracks the sites YOU want to track. You can unsubscribe at any time without having to sacrifice a chicken like with email newsletters.

the_dude: I hear ya on that one. I don’t even remember signing up for the newsletter. It’s so much easier to hit “report spam” than to find out how to unsubscribe.

the_dude: So I can use RSS to subscribe to sites. But I already keep track of all of my FaVoRiTe SiTeS using Internet Explorer. I bookmark them. What’s the big deal?

engtech: Unlike bookmarking, RSS will also remember what you’ve read so far. When you put that together with being able to read all your sites in one place, it makes it very fast to quickly check *everything* at once.

the_dude: Well… I see how that could be useful. But why would I want to read all of those little status updates?

engtech: Ok, you might not want to subscribe to all of those updates. Or at least, only for people you want to keep close tabs on (*cough*AMY*cough*). But RSS also lets you subscribe to longer posts. It’s like having Facebook notes, but for the entire Internet.

the_dude: That’s kind of cool… I guess. And by cool, I mean…

engtech: Hey, didn’t those Facebook news updates help you meet Amy?

the_dude: Well, yeah.

the_dude: Wait… so RSS got me laid?

engtech: Yes, yes it did.

the_dude: Ok, that is pretty cool.

engtech: Yes, yes it is.


the_dude: You’re just telling me about RSS because you want me to read your blog more often, aren’t you?

engtech: Maybe.

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14 Responses

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  1. Reid said, on February 28, 2008 at 5:35 pm

    Nicely done. “How RSS will get you laid” would make a nice Digg headline.

    I usually use the standard “magazine subscription” explanation of RSS, but more and more, I can use the sheer number of people that I pushed into using a reader who are now completely hooked on it, and every single one of those people gave me a blank, skeptical look at first.

  2. engtech said, on February 28, 2008 at 6:14 pm

    @ Reid:

    Good idea: http://digg.com/comedy/How_RSS_Will_Get_You_Laid


  3. Dennis McDonald said, on February 28, 2008 at 6:52 pm

    Thanks for linking to my incredibly lame explanation. I had forgotten all about that one!

    Frankly, I think if you have to explain RSS in a cool or (to use a quaint 20th Century term) “hip” way, you’ve lost.

    My recent experiences with RSS suggest to me that things are getting worse, not better:


    Dennis McDonald
    Alexandria, Virginia

  4. links for 2008-02-29 -- Chip’s Quips said, on February 29, 2008 at 3:27 am

    […] How to Explain RSS to Normal People – 2008 Edition « // Internet Duct Tape RSS can get you laid – Q.E.D. (tags: rss facebook feeds socialmedia) […]

  5. Toji said, on March 04, 2008 at 12:18 am

    It is really nice for everybody out there wondering what this RSS thing is. Thanks a lot.

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  11. Mario said, on May 04, 2008 at 5:03 pm

    Nice dialogue, but if you want to make the analogy that RSS is to webpages what Facebook’s news feed is to your Facebook friends, then what you really want to advocate is page-tracking services like http://www.diffbot.com. Because RSS doesn’t really let you track any of your webpages, just those that have enabled RSS feeds. I could see “the_dude” become very confused trying to add his favorite web sites to an RSS reader, just to find that they dont work.

  12. […] How to explain RSS to normal people Added on 05/07/2008 at 05:19PM […]

  13. Lindsay said, on July 31, 2008 at 2:47 am

    Heh, I’ve given up on trying to get average Joe’s hooked on RSS. Even I must admit that I only check my RSS reader when I’m looking for ideas to blog about.

    I just tell bloggers to add newsletters their readers can subscribe to and use those to bring people back to the site. I think that (newsletter subscribers) is a more accurate reflections of how many people are actually following your work.

  14. Lasik Doctors said, on May 29, 2010 at 8:48 pm

    nice one! LOL You were able to create a conversation that can actually help you learn more about getting a quick update from your favorite site. The comparison of getting updates with the use of Facebook is really helpful.

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