inessential by Brent Simmons

Describing RSS

One of the weirdly-missing pieces from NetNewsWire was always a description of what RSS actually is, written for people who aren’t developers. It’s bizarre that I skipped that part for so many years, but I did.

It wasn’t until NetNewsWire Lite 4 for Macintosh that I attempted it, and I liked how it turned out. It’s specific to NetNewsWire, but the general parts make sense for any reader.

The pitch is pretty obvious: RSS brings you the part you actually care about, minus all the headers and footers and ads and sidebar things. (Which is why NetNewsWire’s slogan was originally “More news, less junk. Faster.”)

The below is all copied verbatim from the NetNewsWire Lite 4 help book (that I’ll take down eventually):

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What is RSS? What are feeds?

Lots of websites have news or updates of some kind.

They also have a bunch of other things — a header at the top of the page, and maybe links and ads and widgets on the left or right (or both). And then some more stuff at the bottom of the page.

Like this imaginary squished-down web page:

Website diagram that shows the good part — where RSS comes from

The good part is the part in the middle — that’s the part with the news. That’s the part that you read. That’s the part you’re interested in.

And that’s what RSS is — it’s just that part, minus the rest of the stuff.


That “good part” is actually made available as a feed. A feed is just a specially-formatted text file that readers like NetNewsWire can read. The files look weird — they kind of look like the source behind web pages, with angle brackets and everything.

The important thing is: it’s NetNewsWire’s job to know how to read the feed. And it’s NetNewsWire’s job to show you what articles you haven’t read yet.

By doing this — by running NetNewsWire — you can let NetNewsWire find out when there’s something new. You don’t have to go to the websites and check to see if there’s something new. You can save time, and not have to rely on your memory.

Types of feeds

People often talk or write about RSS — but sometimes they mention Atom, too. Atom does the same thing as RSS.

If you see RSS or Atom, just know that NetNewsWire handles both, no problem.