RSS Feeds, And You!

Keeping Peeps in the ‘Know’

Or How to Feed Audiences

Let’s say you want to tell someone you updated your website. Or your blog. Or that story thing you’re writing. Hey, maybe you came up with a cool new Thing they could experience!

How would they know?

Oh, I suppose you could let them know via social media or something. Tweet. Tumbl. Face…Book? And you should. Keeping in touch through those methods is pretty essential. Yet, there is another way. Potentially unobtrusive and allowing for a list of all your favorite things for readers to enjoy. How, you might ask? Or not, as the answer is in the title of this blog.

So, RSS Feeds can provide a kind of notification stream and content listing for your work. They are often used by offsite systems to build links and listings and tables of data. Search-bots and content algorithms sometimes use them too. Note, whether or not you want to provide all of your information for easy access like that is a conversation for another time. Right now, let’s consider how an RSS feed can be implemented and how it can be used.

Cut-and-dry-wise, good ol’ Wikipedia will give you an overview of what RSS Feeds are, but it’s not very applicable information. A quick summary on RSS Feeds is that they allow you to create a list, and then that list can be ‘subscribed’ to by a user or device. Browsers, for instance, can be used to subscribe to RSS Feeds. There are also mobile apps and applications that do nothing but monitor and aggregate RSS feeds. In fact, many podcasting networks are nothing more than a server-client system of RSS feeds pushing information back and forth.

But how do we use curious feeds? Well, you need three things: content hosted somewhere on the web, a place to host your RSS feed, and the XML file that is the RSS document itself.

Implementation

Let’s say you have a list of short stories that you occasionally update. Perhaps these short stories are hosted in a multitude of locations. Maybe these stories are updated sporadically throughout the year. Perfect. An RSS feed will allow users to be notified or updated only if something changes. They won’t even have to go to your website to check if nothing’s happened.

Now, let’s find a place to host that XML document. XML, by the way, is just a file format with specific document structuring required for its use. Instead of paragraphs and capitalized words and punctuation, an XML file uses tags to denote chunks of information. Instead of dividing a document up into paragraphs with shared ideas, the document is divided up into chunks of content outlined by tags written such as:

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”ISO-8859-1″?>
<rss version=”2.0″ xmlns:blogChannel=”https://coolstories.list.bro”>

<channel>

<title>Cool Stories</title>
<link>https://coolstories.list.bro</link>
<description>Where you can go to find all my latest cool stories.</description>
<language>en-us</language>
<copyright>Me, bro.</copyright>
<pubDate>Sat, 13 Jul 2015 8:13:40 EST</pubDate>
<ttl>10</ttl>
<image>
<title>Cool Freaking Image</title>
<link>https://coolstories.list.bro</link>
<url>https://coolstories.list.bro/cool_image.png</url>
<width>200</width>
<height>75</height>
<description>Where you can go to find all my latest cool stories.</description>
</image>

<item>
  <title>Cool Story</title>
  <link>https://www.coolStory.bro</link>
  <description>A story about the coolest of things that ever happened.</description>
  <pubDate>Fri, 12 Jul 2015 13:54:18 EST</publicationDate>
</item>

</channel>
</rss>

As you can see, RSS XML uses words wrapped in less-than and greater-than symbols to denote the tags that make up the document’s outline or structure. First, there’s a whole section dedicated to what the feed itself is. That top part tells users where the feed is located, what the link to get to the feed is, and some information on when it was last updated. That’s the top <pubDate> tag, and the <image> up there is to allow you to include an image if some RSS Feed software will showcase your stuff with that image.

After the feed description, everything else is dedicated to feeding content for seeing. Generally, an RSS Feed uses the <item> tag to denote each story, article, or content item that you’ve published. The title is what that content is named, the link leads directly to the content you want subscribers to see, and the description tells viewers what they can expect at that link. The publication date is important too as it’ll tell the user how old the content is, but it can also be used to tell algorithms if there’s something fresh to pop in front of someone’s eyes.

The Using Part

So now you have your cool RSS document, how can it be used? Well, the most direct way is to share that feed with people. You can once again go to social media and share a link there. It’d make a great pinned tweet, for instance, or you could throw a link out every week or so to tell people, “This is where you can find all my stuff!” Alternatively, you just leave it on your website or Facebook page and let audiences find the link there.

When the link is made available, users can then subscribe through the software of their choice or just by using a browser extension that tracks RSS Feeds. Some users might even prefer to go directly to the feed itself so they can click on the links as they’re made available. To go even further, you can get onto sites like Feedburner that will track user statistics and allow users to subscribe for email updates. Other sites will add your RSS Feed to an aggregate based on the content or frequency of updates. Basically, once the feed exists you can find all sorts of ways to use it as a sharing tool.

Overall, RSS Feeds are pretty simple to setup and they can provide a lot of content visibility that goes beyond a static web site. This post only scratches the surface on RSS Feeds, but it’s definitely enough to get someone started in their use. If nothing else, think of them as another tool that can be used to get the word out that you create things and you’d like to share those things.

-J.A.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: