Tuesday, July 19, 2005

[RSS] An introduction.

If you don’t have an rss feed I wont read your postings. And neither will an increasing amount of other people.

What is an RSS feed? At a simple level it is a way to notify people that your site has been updated. You use an RSS reader to subscribe to a feed – look on it like the old email newsletter subscriptions but without the need to send your email address to the producer. Each time your site is updated the rss reader will pick this up and display the details in the reader. If you have a hundred sites you would like to keep an eye on it saves tons of time in not having to visit each site in turn on the off chance there is going to be something of interest. If you don’t like the site or tire of it after a while you can easily unsubscribe from the feed. You can check your reader however frequently you like - although it does become addicitive! I have 115 subscriptions at the moment.

A reader – another piece of software? Indeed, but you can use newsgator within outlook (but not outlook express) which makes each retreaved posting act like an email. Newsgator also has an online version which syncs with outlook. There are many online RSS readers so you don’t have to download anything. My stats show that Bloglines, Newsgator, NetNewsWire, Firefox Live and My Yahoo are the top readers for my feeds. As on spittoon you can set up an ‘easy to subscribe too’ button for each of these readers.

Is it worth it? My internet reading time is limited. I only read sites regularly that have an rss feed that appears in my reader. Many other people are doing the same. Many blogs are updated several times a day; by looking at the heading you can see if the post is of interest and either read the post in full in your reader or follow the link to the permanent link page.

How? All blog software, I think, produces an RSS feed sometimes labelled Syndicate this site. Often this is hidden away at the bottom of a blogs sidebar; perhaps because the owner is not too sure exactly what it is. If you look at spittoon.biz you will see I have put a selection of rss feeds in a prominent position. I have far many more rss readers than site visitors.

Stats? If you sign up to feedburner – the free version suits me just fine – you get full stats on your feed. How many people read each post, the reader they used etc etc. You can run an existing feed through feedburner so you wont loose any existing subscribers.

Do I set an html link? Indeed you do. And the more prominent you make it the better in my book. Use an image to make it stand out. So the RSS feed for this site is http://foodblogscool.blogspot.com/atom.xml and for spittoon run through feedburner and wrapping it around an image it is

{a href=http://feeds.feedburner.com/Spittoonbiz}{img src="http://www.spittoon.biz/images/rssfull.jpg" width="80" height="15" align="right" title="You require an RSS aggregator or reader to subscribe to the Full (all postings) feed from Spittoon." border="0"}All Entries{/a}

You will need to replace the { and } with < or >.

RSS versions. As will many aspects of computing there are various standards. RSS1, RSS2 Atom etc. It shouldn’t matter what feed type you generate as most readers can cope with them all. If you use feedburner it converts the feed automatically.

What else can I use feeds for? Feedburner allows you to redisplay your postings on other sites. Good if you run several websites and want to cross promote them with little work. Have a look at http://www.ukwinesonline.co.uk/FAQS/xtraPages.asp?KC=7&FP=32&PG=nw for one such example. You can also have feedburner splice in google adverts if you have been accepted into that specific program. Flickr photos are also possible. You can also set up search feeds via blog search tools. I will leave that one for another post however.


Guy said...

Yeah, I suppose it's time. I'll make a little effort and see if I can't get it up on Meathenge, you're right.
It didn't come to mind because I'm on Opera and it has a little RSS icon that shows up in the URL display window when the RSS is available.


Jennifer Maiser said...

Thanks for writing this. I am in complete agreement with you about the importance of RSS feeds. I only read blogs from an RSS aggregator (bloglines).

I didn't know about feedburner, so that's interesting to see. I've always wondered if RSS feeds go into my regular stats and now I know! Do you notice any time lag as the feed goes through feedburner? Or is it pretty transparent?

Thanks -


Andrew said...

I thnk they update about every half an hour. its very useful is feedburner - a resource to investigate

Joe said...

Good info!

Andrew said...

If you would like to experiment with feeds a free prog you might like to try is http://www.start.com/myw3b/

Sam said...

I use feedburner on my site and i have their little icon at the bottom of my page, which tells me how many readers I have at anyone time.

So i went to visit my feedburner account )for the first time) to check my stats and I had nothing - zero - there were none whatsever despite the feedburner icon telling me I currently have 46 readers.

Shame - it would have been nice to see the stats.

Anyone else having these problems?

Andrew said...

Its not a problem - the stats will appear the following day. The release of each post is undertaken within 30 minutes of a posting; readership/subscription numbers I think is almost immediate but individual post stats are refreshed each day (I think).

Andrew said...

Heres a little trick you can use if you would like to receive a daily 'report' on your feedburner statistics as an RSS feed.


Easy instructions to follow.

Sam said...

Andrew - I have been on feedburner for months and months which is why I am surprised I have no stats, especially as the number of feeds has slowly been growing in the little icon on my webpage.

Anonymous said...

I have to comment on the fast-becoming-common evil side to rss.

I have several sites using my rss feed to use my posts as content for their own sites, photos included. These are mostly link farm type sites and a few other slightly food related ad-based sites. As my site isn't as chock full of content, I can see where some of you who have much better, more prolific content will find this an issue sooner or later.

I've attempted to restrict my feed so it's only the first paragraph, not the whole length of every post, but apparently whatever I try doesn't work.

Any one have any ideas how to do this?

Owen said...

I have wondered about the link farm thing too. I actually have more RSS readers than Sam does (or about the same number) which is shocking given that she has more than 20 times more regular readers!

I have used Feedburner since they started and check regularly for new features that they offer. In particular you MUST use the 'pretty' RSS feature - it makes an RSS feed that is readable as a web page by a browser and that looks nice - this means that people who click on the link who don't know about RSS still get something nice and they get pointed to Feedburner's educational stuff about RSS and how to use it.

I have my blog's RSS feed set up on my MyYahoo page (which is my home page at home and at work) so I can get to it quickly and just make sure it looks good.

Oddly enough I don't use an RSS reader myself - I haven't found a free one I like yet (and I am not prepared to pay - did I mention that I'm a cheapskate?!)

Sam - you should very carefully go through all the possibilities when you log in to Feedburner to look at stats - the correct places aren't all that intuitive and also their default stats are not very useful ones. But if you are getting the correct info in your code then they ARE tracking your feed somewhere!

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