This article is written in basic terms so that it can be understood by all levels of web developer — from the fresh-to-the-biz newbie all the way up to the experienced webmaster. Because this is a "basics" article, we will discuss the basics first.
Originally known as an RDF (Resource Description Framework) site summary, RSS is commonly referred to today as really simple syndication, or occasionally, a rich site summary. Whatever the name you use, RSS feeds can be used in many different ways.
RSS feeds, which can be a simple summary of the linked-to content or a full text of the content — are read using special software, which is called either an RSS reader, feed reader or aggregator or sometimes directly on websites which embed these feeds into their pages.
Standard RSS feeds are written in XML (eXtensible Markup Language), but some feeds are also written in the original RDF format or Atom syndication format — another XML-related language.
In this article we will focus on the more popular XML RSS feed.
Typically we think of a feed as a listing of news items, forum or blog postings or other information from a favorite site or resource. Many portal sites feature content that is comprised completely of RSS feeds.
You can find RSS feeds in use within CMS (content management system)-driven sites; in community forums (such as those powered by the popular vBulletin message board); and on blogs, where feeds are automatically created by platforms such as WordPress and Blogger.com.
If your website utilizes a program such as WordPress, vBulletin or another program that creates its own feeds, then you already have access to an RSS feed. You can use these feeds within your site network to display new posts on another page or site — or even to offer to your site's visitors for use in their feed readers.
Creating an RSS feed is very similar to creating an HTML page — there are required tags to begin and end your feed and required tags that must be used within the markup in order to get it all to work. Refer to the example below to see how the basic structure of the RSS feed must be created:
<?XML VERSION="1.0" ?>
<TITLE>MY RSS FEED</TITLE>
<DESCRIPTION>A BASIC DESCRIPTION FOR MY FEED OR MY WEBSITE GOES HERE.</DESCRIPTION>
Within this basic structure — after the <description></description> tags and before the </channel> closing tag — you can add each item that you want displayed in your feed.
When linking to your feed or giving visitors a chance to subscribe to your feed, you will be able to set the number of items that will be linked or offered, so keep in mind you will need a couple of items to be added to this section. The individual item markup is below; just add a new set of tags like this for each and every item to be updated on your list:
<TITLE>NEWS ITEM TITLE</TITLE>
<DESCRIPTION>DESCRIPTION GOES HERE — CAN BE AS LONG OR SHORT AS YOU WANT IT. CAN BE A BRIEF SUMMARY OR EVEN JUST THE FIRST PARAGRAPH OR COUPLE OF SENTENCES FROM THE MAIN CONTENT PAGE THAT YOU ARE LINKING TO IN THE FEED…</DESCRIPTION>
Once your page is created you must name it using an .xml extension — for example: RSSfeed.xml would be a suitable name, or you could use keywords to name the feed, which is an excellent idea, especially if you are utilizing multiple feeds.
Familiarize yourself with how others are using RSS feeds and try to get new ideas. You will see that there are other elements that you can list within your feed. Here are a few extras that you can add to your feed structure to enhance your content or to make it more available to feed directories and readers:
This is especially helpful for sites that have multiple feeds built for various categories and targeted areas of their site. Adult site examples include: Big Breasts, Lesbian, Fetish, etc. — use as you would categorize free sites or areas of your site for your traffic.
<COPYRIGHT>COPYRIGHT YOURSITE.COM © 2008 — ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. </COPYRIGHT>
The above adds a simple copyright to your feed to let others know that this content — even in feed form — belongs to you and your site.
The image element requires a beginning <image> and ending </image> tag of course, but also must include the URL of the image, the title or alternate text for the image and a link to the main site. Use this to add your site logo or other related graphic to your feed.
<PUBDATE>FEBRUARY 1, 2008</PUBDATE>
This identifies the most recent publication date of your feed and is good for keeping aggregators and feed readers current with your most recent updates.
<WEBMASTER>WEBMASTER@MYWEBSITE.COM — WEBMASTER</WEBMASTER>
The above identifies and adds a contact e-mail address for the webmaster or creator of the feed or site.
There are a number of ways that you can use your RSS feed. You can simply link to your feed on your site so that your readers can get feeds sent to them automatically whenever the site updates, for example, <a href="http://www. mywebsite.com/feed.xml><img src="rss.gif"></a>, which uses an RSS image file; but you can also use a basic text link.
You can auto-add your feed to an online aggregator such as FeedBurner.com by using the program to create a personalized feed and then follow the linking instructions to add a code to your site which will allow visitors to add feeds using all of the top feed readers currently in-use.
You can also directly embed your feed into an HTML or other type of web page so that your readers can view content from all over your site network.
Below is an example of the code that you would use to embed your feed into your pages:
<A HREF="HTTP://FEED2JS. ORG//FEED2JS.PHP?SRC=HTTP%3A%2F%2FWWW.YOURWEBSITE.COM%2 FYOURFEED.XML &NUM=4&DESC=1&UTF=Y&HTML=Y">VIEW RSS FEED</A>
There are literally thousands of RSS resources and programs available online for you to use that will help you maximize the potential for your feeds in your online project. Rather than simply list a bunch of ideas, here are a few resources that will help you to develop your own unique feeds with a look, feel and usefulness that your site's visitors will appreciate:
- www.w3.org and www.w3schools.com — Standards compliance information, tutorials, ideas and tips for creating valid RSS feed markup.
- www.xul.fr/feed/building-feed-reader.html — Tutorial on how to build your own universal feed reader by using the possibilities of XML PHP5.
- www.rss-specifications.com — RSS Specifications: claims to be "everything you need to know" about creating and using RSS feeds.
- www.feedforall.com — Helps you to easily create, manage and publish RSS feeds.