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EMail and RSS Feeds are two different ways to get content. Often a site offering both will provide the same to both, but it's not a requirement.

Is there a difference between subscribing to a web site's email mailing list and subscribing to the same site's RSS feed?

Yes, they're two completely different things, and what they each contain is up to the site's owner.

I'll show you what I mean with examples from my own email and RSS feeds.

Email

EMail mailing lists are exactly that, content that is periodically delivered to your inbox by your having subscribed to the mailing.

What's in that email is, as I said, up to the creator of that list.

Leo's Answers Weekly Newsletter, in email

In my case, my weekly newsletter is crafted to contain intros to the articles published the prior week, an article from the archives, my comments for the week and a few other things.

So, basically what you get in email is whatever I happen to choose to put in email each week. I happened to have a fairly standard format so you know what you're getting, and can pretty much count on that each week.

There's no requirement that it be related to anything else at all.

But of course in my case, it is.

Web Archive

When each issue is emailed out, I happen to also post a copy of that email on the web site as an archive.

Leo's Answers Weekly Newsletter, on the site

The newsletter I publish on the site is actually very slightly different than the one emailed out. For example, the "Hello" doesn't include the recipient's name.

You can always see the most recent issue here, and all the previous email newsletters are archived here as well. That, once again, is my choice - other email newsletter providers often choose not to provide an online archive at all.

RSS

As a side effect of how my site is constructed, the act of posting the newsletter as an online archive also makes it available via RSS. That means that using an RSS reader you can retrieve and read the newsletter at your convenience.

Leo's Answers Weekly Newsletter, in Google Reader

In this case the newsletter feed includes the same newsletter that was posted on the website. This is actually fairly typical for many web sites - RSS feeds represent the content that was posted on the site. It's not necessarily so, once again it's up to the owner of the site what to place in an RSS feed.

But, as the commercials say, wait! There's more!

I actually have several RSS feeds in addition to the one that contains only the weekly newsletter. The site "All Items" feed contains just that - all the items published on the site, as they're published.

Ask Leo item from the RSS feed in Google Reader

When you subscribe to the individual items feed, that's exactly what you'll get. The first part of each item, with a link back to the site for the entire article. (I chose this design over full-content so as to reduce some of the rampant content theft that pervades the internet.)

It's all about choices

So the bottom line is that not only are RSS and EMail completely different delivery mechanisms, they're frequently completely different content.

The site owner who provides email and RSS has total control over what goes into each. They may be similar, they may be partly related, or they may have nothing to do with each other whatsoever.

And you, as well, have choices to make. After examining what content is made in which form, you'll then also want to choose which you want, and in what format you're most comfortable receiving it.

Article C3684 - March 22, 2009 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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3 Comments
Suzette
March 25, 2009 2:35 AM

Thanks Mr Leo - After this explanation, i'm going to change my ask Leo subscription from email to RSS, BECAUSE- i want to see in the subject header what the post contains. I rarely open Leo's emails because i just don't have time, which means so much valuable info passes me by, however if in Leo's RSS i could see the topic at a glance, i would open the stuff i need to read... I do love your stuf. :-)

Anand
March 27, 2009 8:23 PM

Sir
What about SMS feed? I've seen such feeds in some sites. Is it only google that supports SMS feeds?

MollyJayne40
March 29, 2012 3:02 PM

I have a blog on WordPress. I don't see that I have any choice in controlling the content of email for those who subscribe, although I'm impressed with the presentation. I've not yet explored the RSS feed option, but I don't see any controls on my dashboard that seem to indicate I have any control over that either. If control is not offered directly through a website host like WordPress, is there anyway to create compatible customized feeds and email content subscriptions myself? This interests me in particular in wishing to limit immediate full access to content, as well as to encourage persons to view my site to read full content so they might explore further.

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