christopher heiser <christopher AT heiser DOT net>
Date Published: September 24th, 2002
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RSS Feed Up (and why you might care)

After a painful start I've managed to set up an RSS feed for heiser.net. This means that there is a single XML file that represents heiser.net in a common format which is easily understood by other programs such as news aggregators.

Why is this cool? Well, first of all it allows heiser.net to be widely syndicated (RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, a bit of a misnomer in my opinion) through portals like UserLand, Meekrat, and others. However, there are many personal aggregators which allow you to get all of your favorite content in a single location, updated as often as you like. I am currently using the demo of Newz Crawler which has a very tidy interface; the retail version is $25.

There are also tools which allow you to incorporate RSS feeds into your own website. For PHP developers there is Magpie RSS which is used by Benito to slap recent heiser.net rants onto his webpage. He reports that setup time is in the neighborhood of 5 minutes.

So I was complaining earlier that RSS isn't Really that Simple. While there is decent documentation for RSS 0.91, 0.92, and 2.0, there is little or no help on how to build your own feed. Most people rely on HTML to RSS gateways such as VoidStar or Blogger Pro. These offer simple but somewhat inflexible RSS feeds based on your existing content.

Which version should you use? It's anyone's guess. I am using 0.92 as it supposedly supports HTML tags in the field, although I realized after about an hour of misery that you have to entity encode everything. This means that you can't have a "<" character in the field; you have to convert that to the benign "&lt;" format so the XML parser won't choke on the HTML chars that don't conform to spec. Userland has a nice webpage that allows you to validate your RSS feed to make sure it's compliant. But beware: just because you're compliant doesn't mean the RSS aggregator will understand your feed. I spent a few hours testing the feed on various platforms to make sure that it comes through okay.

Anyone seriously considering writing their own RSS feed should read the RSS FAQ courtesy of VoidStar.

by Christopher Heiser on September 24 15:48
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