RSS was not the first attempt at the syndication of web content. It’s just the first one to achieve success. In 1995 Apple took a pass at it but it didn’t catch on. Ramanathan V. Guha, the guy that worked on syndication at Apple was working at Netscape in 1999 when he created the first version of RSS, called RDF Site Summary. That became RSS, Rich Site Summary, shortly thereafter when the RDF elements were removed to simplify the process and make it easier to use.
Netscape originally developed RSS to be used at their online portal My.Netscape.com but they dropped support two years later as AOL bought and restructured the company. The development and history of RSS gets a little messy after that as several groups began developing it and fighting over copyright of the name and the format. Throughout the early 2000s updates were released and RSS began to take shape as a truly useful means for syndicating content. No company could officially claim the name RSS because Netscape had not given approval. The important thing is people could still use it and that functionality was improving.
In 2003 a copyright had been won for the RSS 2.0 specification and it was assigned to Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society by the man that won it. He was a visiting fellow there. At the same time the RSS Advisory Board was launched to essentially run the format and update it as necessary to ensure it stayed useful for web publishers. RSS truly became widespread and hugely popular in 2005 when Microsoft adopted Firefox’s feed icon and threw their full support behind RSS. At the same time blogs were becoming more and more popular and sites were opening that were essentially gigantic content farms, updating hundreds of times a day. RSS feeds became necessary to follow it all!