by October 11, 2003 0 comments



RSS or Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary is an XML extension that can be used to syndicate dynamic Web content. In simple words, it’s useful for you if you have a Web site or a blog that you update regularly and want people to know that you have done so. Usually you get people to subscribe to your mailing list and push updated content into their inbox. However, people these days tend to avoid submitting their e-mail IDs to subscribe to online newsletters, as spammers can easily use it. With RSS, you can pull users to your Web site by providing them updated headlines of your content without involving any e-mail. This Hands On article will get you started with creating your own RSS feeds.

About RSS
RSS first appeared in 1999 through Netscape and the Userland group took it up later. There’s also another non-commercial group that’s been developing RSS based on RDF (Resource Description Format), and their expansion of RSS is RDF Site Summary. This version of RSS is slightly different from UserLand’s and is also a bit more complex. It’s called RSS 1.0.

Userland’s contribution to RSS is through versions 0.92, 0.93, 0.94 and 2.0, which is the latest. You can get the Userland RSS and RSS-DEV group’s specifications from http://backend.userland.com/rss and http://web.resource.org/rss/1.0/spec respectively.

  STEP ONE  

You can use applications like this one to view important headlines from various Web sites without having to subscribe to their newsletters. 

Get Your Own Feed
A RSS feed of your Web site is nothing but an XML file. It contains links to the latest items on your site along with their description — all in a channel that identifies your Web site. A sample RSS file looks like this:

<?xml version=”1.0” encoding=”ISO-8859-1” ?>
<rss version=”0.91”>
<channel>
<title>All the News in the World</title>
<link>http://www.allthenews.com/news.html</link>
<description>Technology News etc.</description>
<language>en-us</language>
<item>
<title>Google announces Code-competition</title>
<link>http://www.allthenews.com/news.html#1</link>
<description> Google is ‘looking for programmers who can rewrite the world’s information infrastructure’, Google Code Jam 2003, an online coding challenge, offers $10,000 for the winner and probably, a job at Google. 
</description>
</item>
<item>
.
.
.
</item>

</channel>
</rss>

This sample file can be used as a template and you can replace the names inside each tag to represent your site and the contents therein. Inside the <channel> tag, you have to provide these details:

Title: your site’s title
Link: your site’s URL 
Description: brief description of your site
Language: the language your site is in. 

This part of the RSS file always remains constant, as it’s your site’s RSS identity. 

The ‘what’s new’ on your site is defined in the RSS feed that’s within the <item> tags. The most basic of these are as shown in the example above:

Title: the news /blog item’s title
Link: the item’s URL
Description: brief note about it

This part has to be added for each new item you want people to know about. Also, you have to update it as often as your site’s updated. A word of caution when you’re creating your own RSS feed. Since RSS is an XML-based file it is bound by some peculiarities of the XML syntax. There are some characters that are illegal in XML syntax and have to be escaped. For instance,
To use the special character ‘&’, write it as ‘&amp’ . To use double quotes, write it as ‘&quot’.
To use apostrophe or single quote, write it as ‘&apos’.

To use ‘>’, write it as ‘&gt’
To use ‘<’, write it as ‘&lt’

The > and < characters are also a part of the XML syntax, so you don’t need to escape them when they’re used in tags.

Once you’ve made relevant changes, you can save this file as <anynameyoulike>.rss and upload it to your Web server.

  STEP TWO  

Validate It
There are RSS validators available that will validate your file. Just paste the URL of your RSS file in the space provided in any of these locations:

http://aggregator.userland.com/validator 
http://feeds.archive.org/validator/ 

Just go to the link and enter the URL of the RSS file you just uploaded and click on validate. The Userland aggregator is a bit outdated though (last updated in 2001), so its better to stick to feeds archive.

  STEP THREE  

Link to It
So you have got your own hand-made RSS feed ready. How will you use it? There are two basic things you have to do for that. First, place a link to this RSS feed file on your Web site’s main page. 

For this, you could use a gif file of the XML logo as most people who use RSS feeds commonly use it. You could easily get the logo from the Net. Upload this gif to your server and link it to your RSS feed as follows: 

<a href=”www.allthenews.com/allthenews.rss”><img src = “images/xml.gif” width=”36” height=”14” alt=”Get my RSS feed!” border =”0”> </img> </a>

Here, just replace the URL with your own. 

Second, you have to inform one or more RSS aggregators about your feed, so that they can pick it up and give you an HTML output of the same. RSS Aggregation can be Web-based or application based. Some Web-based aggregators are found here:

Daypop: http://www.daypop.com/info/submit.htm
Syndic8: http://www.syndic8.com/suggest.php?Mode=data
Edu_RSS: http://www.downes.ca/cgi-bin/xml/feeds.cgi
Bloglines: www.bloglines.com/
MyWireService: www.mywireservice.com/

To use these Web-based aggregators, you’ll need to provide them with the link to your RSS file. 

In case you don’t want to use these, there are other ways of doing it as well. There’s a service provided by Wytheville Community College through which you just need to put a small piece of Javascript code in your Web site’s code and display any RSS as HTML. 

Here’s the link: www.wcc.vccs. edu/services/news/ 
There are a number of RSS-aggregation applications as well. You can get links to almost all of them with a Google search of RSS aggregators. Here are a few of the applications : 

Ampheta Desk: www.disobey.com/amphetadesk/ – for Mac/Win/Linux platforms 
FeedReader: 
www.feedreader.com/ – free software for Windows 
NewzCrawler: www.newz crawler.com/ – for Windows
NewsGator: www.newsgator. com/ – runs in Microsoft Outlook. 
Feeddemon: www.feeddemon.com- beta version for Windows.
RSS aggregators are the all-important piece of software in the RSS jigsaw that actually display the RSS feed in HTML format, in case you’ve been wondering what they are. More on these in the next issue. Watch this space. 

Shruti Pareek

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