food

What is this RSS, XML, RDF and Atom business?

It’s been a long day at work and you don’t feel like cooking dinner or going out. Time to rely on the reliable pizza delivery boy. The order is taken and he arrives within 30 minutes as promised with a smoking hot pizza. If only it were that easy with a picky family where no one can agree on the same restaurant for dinner. One wants Mexican, the other wants Chinese, and the other wants a burger and Mexican.

Instead of walking to three different locations, you call a delivery service that drives them all and brings it to you. What could be easier to get a meal without cooking or fetching?

RSS, XML, RDF and Atom are the food purveyors of the Internet. The content they deliver is mixed and cooked elsewhere on the web, just as the food isn’t prepared on your doorstep and the acronym grantees bring the content to you via software or an online application. Instead of trying to remember all the places you like to get the latest news, everything comes to you as soon as you order your food.

Click any of those orange or blue RSS, XML, or RDF buttons and you’ll see garbled text. Some of these are readable, but reading between them is slow and difficult. In this case, you have the raw materials of the content known as the feed. To make it easy to read, download a feed reader that can interpret (aggregate) the ingredients, or subscribe to an online service that can do the same.

When the software or application is ready, click the orange or blue button (or “Syndicate This Page” or whatever along those lines) and copy the resulting URL from the address field. Insert it into the application to cook the ingredients where it will be delivered to you ready for your enjoyment.

Syndication isn’t a new concept on the web, but it’s growing in popularity as more websites and newsletters prep content to turn it into syndicated files that feed into an aggregator. Think of it as the go-anywhere content.

Grab the feed and pass it to the aggregator, another way to bookmark (or favorite) a site because you want to come back another time. But how many times have you returned to the site via your bookmarks/favorites?

Instead of slogging from page to page in search of information, I have everything about the aggregator in front of me. The feeds are organized into folders by topic for easy finding. When I write about the latest virus or worm, I open the security folder with the security-related feeds and scan them.

Scanning content via aggregators is easier than on a website as it’s in a folder with headings and maybe a short synopsis. On a website, you only benefit from the news of that website and nowhere else. The folder contains news from over ten resources, including blogs, news sites, and newsletters.

All content can be syndicated. It’s all about setting up the backend process that depends on the application used to manage the content. If a website does not have such resources, there is software for entering content to create a file with the feed for posting on the website.

Most aggregators have export capabilities so the feed can be shared with others interested in the same topic. If you are interested in my security feeds, in most cases I can export them to an OPML file and you can import them into your aggregator.
Spam filters prevent readers from receiving newsletters or they get lost in the spam pool. Offering a feed for the newsletter is a compromise.

Readers can get the content, only it doesn’t go to the email inbox, it goes through the aggregator. It’s a way to bypass spam. Like everything else, it has its pros and cons:
Advantages:

  • Filters cannot prevent the newsletter from reaching its destination.
  • The recipient will get it – if the server is down, it will be downloaded next time and emails may be lost.
  • The feed can be syndicated to give your content more exposure.

Disadvantages:

  • Count on readers to open aggregators like an email client, but some aggregators are built into an email client like NewsGator, and there are online aggregators like Bloglines that can be your home page.
  • The metrics won’t be as complete, but they’re still there through the links.
  • Not as pretty as HTML-based newsletters.

What do you have to lose if the feed is created automatically? They offer your readers another way to get your content, just like you can get pizza in a variety of ways: go to a restaurant, have it delivered, or make it at home. More applications add syndication features that make the process effortless. Some have said they will only read something if it has a feed.

Syndication works better than bookmarks. With bookmarks, you click on a website that may contain security information and realize that it doesn’t. So, back to bookmarks to click to another page. Lather, rinse, repeat. With aggregators, there is no jumping from site to site. Scan the headlines right there until you find what you need.

There was a time when we didn’t have the option of having pizza delivered to our doorstep. When we are too tired, we know we can rely on the supplier. In terms of content, expect it to show up on your doorstep more often than the pizza delivery guy, and it’s cheaper since the cost comes solely from the software, although there are plenty of free options.

Syndication is here to stay and should be included in a company’s communication toolbox rather than as a replacement. Witness it by keeping an eye out for RSS, XML, RDF, and Atom.

About the author

Amine

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