An Introduction to Weblogs/Generating Newsfeeds
Methods of generating newsfeeds
Over the last few years 'newsfeeds' have become a standard feature of the World Wide Web. Perhaps you’ve noticed websites or blogs with a little orange button labeled XML or RSS or simply Newsfeed. These are all examples of newsfeeds. They are links to text files with their content formatted in XML (eXtensible Manipulation Language), containing a set of items in reverse chronological order.
Many major news sources, such as the BBC, CNN and many others now publish newsfeeds and thousands of weblog authors publish feeds to keep themselves connected to their readers. Blogs are the main driving force behind the recent surge of interest in RSS and syndicated content.
One of the most common feed formats is called RSS 2.0, with RSS meaning Really Simple Syndication. An earlier version called RSS 0.91 or 0.92 is still in use at some sites. Syndication is the name given to the sharing of content among different Web sites. The term is borrowed from the media industry, where it is normally associated with content such as television programs, which can be syndicated to several different TV stations, and newspaper columns, which can be syndicated to several publishers.
Confusingly enough, another major newsfeed format is called RSS 1.0, but in this case RSS stands for RDF Site Summary. (RDF stands for Resource Description framework, a standard way of providing information about websites, but you needn’t bother about that.). There’s an updated version called RSS 1.1, but many sites still use RSS 1.0.
The third common format for news feeds is Atom 1.0, released in August 2005 by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). However an earlier release, Atom 0.3 has been around for a long time and some sites are still running this.
There are other versions of newsfeeds about, but RSS 2.0, RSS 1.0 and Atom are the commonest ones and the only ones we’ll discuss from now on. There are more sophisticated methods of producing and manipulating newsfeeds by using technologies such as ASP (Active Server Pages) or PHP, a scripting language used to create dynamic web pages, but these are outwith the scope of this course.
The format and use of newsfeeds is fairly simple. Each feed contains a number of discrete items, usually with a title, content, category, author and date. The overall feed also has information such as source title, last update time, update frequency, site owner and so on. Within these fields, there are various options that can lead to a good deal of variation between feeds, but this level of detail is outwith the scope of this unit.
Though newsfeeds are becoming widespread at many different kinds of websites, they achieved their current level of popularity today through their use in weblogs. It’s difficult to say which was the main driving force behind dated, time-limited, reverse-ordered entries: weblogs or newsfeeds. Most blogging tools provide the ability to generate newsfeeds in one or more formats.
We’ll take a look now at several of these tools:
As already noted, Blogger was one of the earliest weblogging environments and it still accounts for a significant percentage of weblogs. Blogger provides only Atom as a built-in feed type, though Blogger Pro account holders can also select RSS 2.0. It’s also possible to add an RSS newsfeed by using third-party products such a FeedBurner. We’ll take a closer look at adding a feed to a Blogger blog shortly.
Six Apart is the supplier of three popular blogging tools, Movable Type, TypePad and LiveJournal. All three support both Atom and RSS 2.0.
WordPress supports for all three major syndication feed formats: RSS 1.0, RSS 2.0 and Atom as well as some legacy formats, like RSS 0.9x.
As you can see, most tools support RSS 2.0 and Atom, and some support RSS 1.0, along with widely used legacy formats, like RSS 0.92. If you are using a tool which only supports one format and you want to supply another type of feed, you may be able to find plugins or add-ins that can provide support for the relevant format. Another option is to use a service that converts a feed from one format to another, e.g.: http://2rss.com can generate an RSS 2.0 feed from an Atom feed.
Once you’ve set up a newsfeed, you’ll want let readers subscribe to you. Remember those little buttons labelled Atom, RSS or XML that we talked about earlier? They lead to a newsfeed and clicking on them will open that feed in your browser (or whatever other application you’ve defined to handle newsfeeds. Your blogging tool may allow you to add a button automatically to your site, or you can create a hypertext link with the appropriate label.
Another way of publicising a feed is to use autodiscovery. This involves putting a line into the HEAD section of each web document, giving the location of your feed. You must also provide information about the type of feed so that aggregators know how to find it. Your blogging tool may let you to do this automatically.
If you add this to a page, and your readers access the page with a feed-sensitive browser, such as Firefox, they will see an indicator that the site has associated feeds that they can subscribe to. If your readers put the URL for your site into whatever newsfeed aggregator they use, it should find the link to the feed, without further effort on your part.
If you are using Blogger, you can add an Atom newsfeed as follows:
1. Log on to Blogger.com and select the Blog you want to add a newsfeed to.
2. Click on the Settings tab, then on the Site Feed tab. The following window will appear:
3. Select Yes in the Publish Site Feed drop-down list to publish your feed.
4. Select Full in the Descriptions drop-down box if you want to publish the full posts in your site feed, or select Short to publish only the first paragraph.
If you want to publicise the newsfeed on by putting a link on the blog itself, the standard practice is to include the link in the sidebar. Many of Blogger's default templates already have a link section in them.
5. Log in to your blog and then click on the Template tab. Scroll down through the code until you see something like this in the sidebar section:
'''<h2 class="sidebar-title">Links</h2> <ul> <li><a href="http://news.google.com/">Google News</a></li> <li><a href="http://EDITME">Edit-Me</a></li> <li><a href="http://EDITME">Edit-Me</a></li> </ul>'''
There are already a few links in there to get you started. You can delete or edit these as you wish and you can also add as many links as you want.
6. Copy and paste this code into your template to create the link:
'''<a href="<$BlogSiteFeedUrl$>" title="Atom feed">Site Feed</a>'''
Finally, save your changes and republish your blog. If your chosen template doesn’t have a links section, you can simply copy the code above and paste it into your template. You will probably want to put it in the sidebar, perhaps next to the archives or previous posts list. If you’d rather have an RSS link, try using FeedBurner. There’s a section on the home page (http://www.feedburner.com/fb/a/home) entitled “Get started with”. If you click on the Blogger link you’ll find full instructions on how to put an RSS newsfeed on your blog.
Follow the steps outline above (or the FeedBurner instructions for an RSS feed) to place a newsfeed on your blog.