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There's an invasion of little orange buttons on Web sites, and it has nothing to do with a new marketing campaign from Home Depot.

Often labeled "XML," "RSS," or more recently "Subscribe," feeds are playing a leading role in the user-controlled distribution and fragmentation of Web content.

How It All Began

Feeds have been around for quite a while, but their recent growth has been closely tied to the blogging phenomenon.

In February 2004, blog search engine Technorati ( tracked roughly 2 million blogs. Two years later, that number had increased 1260%, with content covering a range of topics, including family life, politics, culture, music, sports, business, and many others.

Predictably, blog readership became a bigger part of our daily online content diet. "Blog readership took off in 2004," according to Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

But there was one problem. Unlike most major media Web sites, many blogs—even the most popular ones—are not updated on a predictable schedule. As individuals added blogs to the list of things they read regularly, more time was spent navigating between sites, sometimes finding that the content had not been updated. What they needed was an easier way to aggregate content into one place.

The blog software companies came to the rescue, resurrecting a technology used by Netscape in the 1990s. RSS, short for "really simple syndication," seemed well-suited for the packaging and delivery of blog posts.

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Brent Hill is vice-president of business development for FeedBurner (, a leader in feed management and operator of the largest advertising network for feeds.