Thursday, September 10, 2009
The best way for me to discern the how to use something as it pertains to my blog, I do the research and then I blog about it. Although I have an RSS feed on my blog, just look to the right, and I belong to Feedburner, I was never 100% confident about what I was doing. So, The purpose of this blog entry is to gain a greater understanding on how RSS feeds, Feedburner & various readers work. To break down the various nuances of RSS and other feeds in an effort help others who may be in my boat. You get it, but you don't really get it.
First of all, what is a feed. In layman's terms, a feed is a place where content is taken from a site is fed into a personal stream. Each site one has subscribed to will be delivered to the subscribers feed.
RSS Feed A (not so brief) History
This is likely the most commonly heard or used "feed". Really Simple Syndication. A standardized format in which to share web headlines or frequently updated content. The content is usually condensed and includes the post date and the author.
How or where do you read an RSS?
You read an RSS feed in an RSS Reader OR a Feed Reader. I hope I am not yet losing you. It is very confusing at first but it will start to make some sense. These "readers" are mostly web based feed "aggregators", however they can be desktop based or mobile based. You may also receive an RSS feed via email, I follow a popular finance blog and I like having the bloggers feeds sent to me via email. To add more confusion to the RSS game, I am now going to tell you that there are thousands of readers you can choose from. Later in this post, I will go over a few of the more popular ones.
Why do we need feeds?
If you follow a large number of blogs, you can subscribe and read them like your own personalized newspaper. You have your finance section from your fave finance blogger, a feed from your fave gossip columnist, a sports blog perhaps, without having to navigate from site to site. Or, perhaps your office blocks you from certain sites, you may be able to read your favorite sites via the RSS feed. As a publisher of a feed, it is great to have your feed delivered instantly to your readership base.
Let's go a little deeper. What is XML?
Extensible Markup Language is what it stands for but what does that mean? I have read on various sites that RSS possibly evolved from XML. Trust me, I hate acronyms as much as you do. It seems that the first version of an RSS started as early as 1995 around the time when the basic idea of restructuring information came about. Feel free to correct me on this. XML is a set of rules for encoding documents electronically. A mechanism to identify structures in a document content (words and pictures) and what role that content plays. XML was created so that richly structured documents could be used over the web with simplicity and usability. I am not certain if this helps much but if you'd like to read more, see below for various other sources that delve into XML deeper.
Another choice is Atom...what is Atom?
Atom syndication format. The next generation of XML file formats. A simple HTTP based protocol for creating and updating web sources. So, it appears to me that XML came first, RSS followed and Atom is the newest generation of content to be syndicated between applications. Atom places content and metadata for displaying, remixing, filtering and archiving.
Here is a great blog post from Problogger on the differences between RSS & Atom.
Various Feed Readers
I personally use Google Reader for my blog subscriptions but I use My Yahoo for my news feeds. There are various other readers that people utilize. Here is a short list:
Publishing Your Feed
If you have a website, blog or even a photostream like Flickr you can publish a feed of that content. I publish my feed through Feedburner and readers can subscribe to my feed from there and have it streamed or fed into whichever reader they subscribe to.
Basically, you go to the Feedburner site and create and account. You then "claim your feeds". From there, you publicize your feed. You can put an icon onto your blog generated in Feedburner for your readers to click on. It is available for Typepad, Wordpress & Blogger. An email option also exists where readers can opt to have your feed delivered straight to their inbox.
Finally, I found one alternative to Feedburner and that is Feedblitz.
I hope this was remotely helpful in getting started. There are many resources that delve deeper into the process. It can be confusing and many times, I have had problems figuring out if I did something right or wrong. I just check back and test links, check my feeds, etc. to see if I've dropped the ball at any point. I would love to have some comments providing greater detail!
Additional readings and sources:
Google has a great step by step tutorial
Wikipedia for RSS
What is an RSS?
Dave Winer's blog post on Real Simple Syndication
Wikipedia for XML
XML a Technical Guide
What is Atom?
Air Disa on RSS Search Return
Labels: Social Media