Creating an RSS feed from scratch

RSS feeds
are the lin­gua fran­ca of the mod­ern inter­net, the glue that binds
togeth­er the hun­dreds of ser­vices that make up “Web 2.0.” The term
stands for “Real­ly Sim­ple Syn­di­ca­tion” and can be thought of as a
machine-code table of con­tents to a web­site. An RSS feed
for a blog will typ­i­cal­ly list the last dozen-or-so arti­cles, with the
title, date, sum­ma­ry and con­tent all laid out in spe­cial fields. Once
you have a website’s RSS feed you can syn­di­cate, or re-publish, its con­tents by email, RSS read­er
or as a side­bar on anoth­er web­site. This post will show you a
ridicu­lous­ly easy way to “roll your own” RSS feed with­out hav­ing to
wor­ry about your website’s con­tent platform.

Just about every native Web 2.0 appli­ca­tions comes built-in with mul­ti­ple RSS feeds.
But in the real world, web­sites are built using an almost-infinite
num­ber of con­tent man­age­ment sys­tems and web devel­op­ment software
pro­grams. Some­times a sin­gle web­site will use dif­fer­ent pro­grams for
putting its con­tents online and some­times a sin­gle orga­ni­za­tion spreads
its func­tions over mul­ti­ple domains.

Step 1: Make it Del​.icio​.us

To begin, sign up with Del​.icio​.us,
the pop­u­lar “social book­mark­ing” web ser­vice (sim­i­lar ser­vices can be
eas­i­ly adapt­ed to work). Then add a “post to Del​.icio​.us” but­ton to
your browser’s tool­bar fol­low­ing the instruc­tions here.
Now when­ev­er you put new con­tent up on your site, go that new page,
click on your “post to Del​.icio​.us” but­ton and fill out a good title
and descrip­tion. Choose a tag to use. A tag is sim­ply a cat­e­go­ry and
you can make it what­ev­er you want but “mysites” or your busi­ness name
will be the eas­i­est to remem­ber. Hit save and you’ve start­ed an RSS feed.

How? Well, Del​.icio​.us turns each tag into a RSS feed.
You can see it in all its machine code glo­ry at
del​.icio​.us/​r​s​s​/​u​s​e​r​n​a​m​e​/​m​y​s​i​tes (replac­ing “user­name” with your
user­name and “mysites” with what­ev­er tag you chose).

Now you could just adver­tise that Del​.icio​.us RSS feed
to your audi­ence but there are a few prob­lems doing this. One is that
Del​.icio​.us accounts are usu­al­ly per­son­al. If your web­mas­ter leaves,
then your pub­lished RSS feed will need to
change. Not a good sce­nario, espe­cial­ly since you won’t even be able to
tell who’s still using that old feed. Before you adver­tise your feed
you should “future proof” it by run­ning it through Feedburner.

Cloak that Feed

Go to Feed​burn​er​.com. Right there on the home­page they invite you to type in a URL.
Enter your Del​.icio​.us feed’s address and sign up for a Feedburner
account. In the field next to feed address give it some sen­si­ble name
relat­ing to your com­pa­ny or site, let’s say “mycompa­ny” for our
exam­ple. You’ll now have a new RSS feed at
feeds​.feed​burn​er​.com/​m​y​c​o​m​p​any. Now you’re in busi­ness: this is the
feed you adver­tise to the world. If you ever need to change the source RSS feed you can do that from with­in Feed­burn­er and no one need know.

The default title of your Feed­burn­er feed will still show it’s
Del​.icio​.us roots (and the webmaster’s user­name). To clear that out, go
into Feedburner’s “Opti­mize” tab and turn on the “Title/Description
Burn­er,” fill­ing it out with a title and descrip­tion that better
match­es your feed’s pur­pose. For an exam­ple of all this in action, the
Del​.icio​.us feed that pow­ers my tech link blog and its Feed­burn­er “cloak” can be found here:

Get that Feed out there

Under Feedburner’s “Pub­li­cize” tag there are lots of neat features
to repub­lish your feed your­self. First off is the “Chick­let chooser”
which will give you that ubiq­ui­tous RSS feed
icon to let vis­i­tors know you’ve entered the 21st Cen­tu­ry. Their “Buzz
Boost” fea­ture lets you cre­ate a snip­pet of code for your home­page that
will list the lat­est addi­tions. “Email sub­scrip­tions” lets your
audi­ence sign up for auto­mat­ic emails when­ev­er you add some­thing to
your site.

Final Thoughts

RSS feeds are great ways of communicating
excit­ing news to your audi­ences. If you’re lucky, impor­tant blog­gers in
your audi­ence will sub­scribe to your feed and spread your news to their
net­works. Cre­at­ing a feed through a book­mark­ing ser­vice allows you to
add any page on any site regard­less of its under­ly­ing structure.

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