All the recent excitement over the new Netflix RSS feeds has resulted in a flurry of comments and e-mails asking "What is a RSS feed?" and "Why do we need RSS feeds?" I'd like to take a shot at both questions.
RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, which is simply a text file that contains the information you see on a Webpage (like Hacking Netflix) in a different format. RSS files are not meant to be read by humans, instead they are designed to be used by RSS readers. There are many RSS readers, including Bloglines, NetNewsWire (Mac), and NewsGator. A longer list of RSS readers is at https://www.lights.com/weblogs/rss.html. Many blog readers are free (Bloglines, NetNewsWire) and some are shareware or commercial applications, so they might cost you a few bucks. I tried several before I settled on Bloglines, which runs in almost any Web browswer, so I can use it from almost any computer (Mac or Windows).
Why is RSS so important? We all get too much SPAM, and many e-mail newsletters are getting blocked or automatically deleted by SPAM filters. With RSS you subscribe to the sites you're interested in reading. Nobody can sign you up for a RSS feed -- you have to subscribe (no more SPAM!). If you don't like a RSS feed, you can simply delete it and it's gone.
If you see a small orange XML icon, the words "Subscribe" or "RSS Feed" on a site, you can copy the link into your RSS reader (some RSS readers let you click on the link to subscribe). You only have to do this once for each site, and then you can read these Web sites using the RSS reader. RSS readers are great -- I don't have to visit 60 sites every day to see if they have been updated -- Bloglines shows me which sites have been updated and how many times.
Developers can use the RSS feeds to create new and interesting ways of displaying this information that Netflix provides (queues, top lists, etc). I expect developers to quickly create programs that let you display your queue on your Web site or on your desktop. I'm looking at how I can take the new release feeds (who really wants to scan hundreds of movie releases each week) to create smaller, more useful lists. I'm also expecting programmers to do things that make our Netflix experience easier and more enjoyable.
I hope I gave you a few reasons why we're so excited about the Netflix RSS feeds. Now let's see what the programmers do with them.