RSS, like its web standard sister Atom, was designed to support syndication across blogs. By opening up the data behind a set of blog entries, information could easily be shared across the internet without manual copy-paste or messy screen scraping.
Due to the massive growth and enthusiasm for blogs, all manner of technology to support RSS / Atom is now commonly available - downloadable client news readers, website based news readers, blogging sites, browser toolbars, even integration with the Vista operating system.
But like all great technology, RSS / Atom is useful for a lot more than initially realised. In fact, it's becoming one of the foundations of the web. Here are some examples:
- Business Process alerting engines: use a feed reader to monitor queues and automatically escalate exceptions via email, IM, SMS or VOIP.
- Synchronization: Using RSS / Atom to manage automated synchronization, for example between Blackberry / iPod and a PC, or between a PC and internet sites
- Email / Calendar / Contact storage: using simple extensions to RSS / Atom, it's possible to store emails, calendar entries and contact information as a native XML feed. This can replace the dreaded .pst file, bringing the same advantages as Office XML formats did over the old binary files.
Several extensions to RSS / Atom are in active development (as extensions, these work best with Atom which is namespace aware): Atom Publishing Protocol, to handle updates / deletes as well as simple views of data; SSE, to handle synchronization between feeds; and Gdata, to allow for native email / calendar / contact storage.
But even without these extensions, it's clear that over the next few years, RSS / Atom will become one of the most important foundations of the web.