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1499Re: [syndication] Evangelizing RSS

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  • Julian Bond
    May 12, 2001
      Sometime it helps to wait a day or two before hitting the send key. I
      shouldn't even have to say this, but I'm not trying to be contentious
      here, I'm trying to get some perspective.

      I came to this late, long after the major work was done on defining rss.
      I've read enough and done enough research to understand some of the
      sources of the discontent, but I really wonder what all the fuss is
      about. From where I'm standing, rss looks like a major success. I don't
      have figures to back it up, but I suspect it's *the* most successful XML
      format in terms of implementations. Anyone care to guess how many Mb of
      rss data are created every day?

      The competing standards are close enough that from the point of view of
      a consumer of rss, or a programmer parsing the data, the differences are
      a small pain but really not hard.

      So without further ado. And in order from the ridiculous to the

      Q: What is RSS?

      1: It's a set of three letters that seem to create tension between
      people whenever they're mentioned.

      2: It's a name not an acronym. At least no one acronym. At various
      times, it has been converted into an acronym meaning Rich Site Summary,
      Really Simple Syndication or something else entirely.

      3: It's one of several XML formats that Userland use to transport
      information around various parts of the Userland cloud. Despite (or
      perhaps, because of) their involvement in the development of several of
      the rss variants, their use of rss is subtly different to everyone
      else's. But the differences are so small as to be effectively irrelevant
      and the Userland sites are a major source of information in rss format.

      4: It's a name for a loose collection of related but subtly different
      and competing standards using XML. The standards are simple enough that
      it's easy to create the files either with code or by hand. They
      are also close enough that it's fairly trivial to write code that can
      read the data from any of them and do something useful with it. The
      standards are designed to allow a content generation website to
      syndicate its headlines to other websites in a simple, and easy to
      create form. Inevitably, inventive people have thought of many other
      sources and uses.

      It's hard to tell how many websites publish an RSS file but estimates
      suggest there are now >4000 publically accessible rss feeds on the
      internet. Manila and most of the "Slash" codesets like Scoop,
      PHP-Nuke and Drupal generate rss by default. In addition, there are
      several efforts round the web to convert existing websites into an rss
      feed with or without the approval of the website owners. All this
      suggests that the actual figure may be much higher. On the commercial
      and semi-commercial side, Moreover, 10.am and others are collecting
      headline data from mostly commercial sites, categorizing it and then re-
      publishing it as rss, among other formats.

      5. But above all, rss is really simple, simon. I bet if you stripped the
      descriptions to the bone, you could fit all the variants on a single
      sheet of A4. Even a pretty poor programmer, such as myself, can extract
      the data from rss with a few string functions and generate it with a few

      This is it's greatest strength.

      So what to do?

      Well, if you manage a website, generate an rss file. Pick a format and
      just do it, by hand if you have to. My preference would be for 0.92 but
      if you prefer rdf, use 1.0. I don't care. And then make sure it's
      obvious on your site where it is.

      For my uses, I keep wanting to pick up rss from sites that don't
      currently produce it. So I hassle the webmaster. It doesn't always work,
      but sometimes it does. I suggest you do the same.

      Julian Bond eMail: julian@...
      HomeURL: http://www.shockwav.demon.co.uk/
      WorkURL: http://www.netmarketseurope.com/
      WebLog: http://roguemoon.manilasites.com/
      M: +44 (0)77 5907 2173 T: +44 (0)20 7420 4363
      ICQ:33679668 tag:So many words, so little time
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