Help With RSS And Atom Feeds

What is this feed thing everyone is talking about?

It's a standardized format that lets you subscribe to a web site using a tool called a news reader or aggregator.

The orange XML and RSS buttons are scarecrows meant to put newbies off let you locate feeds in one quick glance.

Why should I care about feeds?

The reasons you should care about feeds reportedly are:

  • You want to be notified of updates from the many web sites that you read without visiting them one by one
  • You prefer to read your favorite web sites from one convenient location without any interface clutter

In practice, the reasons you should and do care about feeds are:

  • You want to be notified of updates from the many web sites that you don't trust enough to reveal them your email address
  • You want to reorganize the raw information that is available for syndication as you see fit

How do I subscribe to a feed?

It's super simple. Log into MyMSN, MyYahoo!, Google Reader or Bloglines and click the relevant button:

  • MyMSN for MSN
  • MyYahoo! for Yahoo!
  • Google! for Google
  • Bloglines for Bloglines

These four services are the only ones you really want to care about. The benefit of using them is two-fold:

  • A web-based service means your favorite feeds will remain available when you change computers
  • Search engines (will) provide tools to organize feeds by topic and relevance rather than by site and date

The drawback is of course your loss of privacy. If you dislike the idea that Google knows more about you than yourself, then start using a more relevant search engine like MSN or Yahoo! and either:

How do I add subscribe buttons to my blog?

It's super simple too:

  • Download WordPress
  • Download the subscribe me plugin
  • Follow the install instructions for each

If you don't feel like editing WordPress template code, the subscribe me plugin is bundled with Semiologic Pro, and it works out of the box with the Semiologic theme or any other widget enabled WordPress theme.

What are XML, RSS and Atom anyway?

It's all meaningless to you? No worries… Most self-proclaimed specialists have absolutely no idea of what they are talking about either.

In short, though:

  • RSS (Really Simple Syndication) and Atom are two XML (eXtended Markup Language) formats that are competing one another
  • XML — and Web Services — is the latest means to clutter IT resources, by letting you do the same thing as ODBC (Open DataBase Connectivity) and RPC (Remote Procedure Call) in a less efficient manner

History-wise:

  • Dave Winer reportedly invented RSS and syndication
  • Apple reportedly innovated by using RSS feeds to create active desktops
  • Microsoft released an Active Desktop with — *cough* — Windows 95

Standards-wise:

  • There are a dozen incompatible flavors of RSS and Atom that are labeled as standard
  • RSS is a standardized XML format that does not comply with the recommended XML date format
  • Some geeks report that Atom is better than RSS, but noone really cares
  • RSS will prevail in the end; simply because it is adopted by Microsoft

Protocol-wise:

  • Feeds use a dumb protocol that is equivalent to setting up a permanent distributed denial of service attack on your own web site

And in practice:

  • Many feed subscribers are automated web sites set up by spammers who republish your content alongside ads (spam blogs, or "splogs")