Syndication feeds are small web files that summarize the latest posts
to a particular blog or news site. They’re a central repository of
basic information: title, author, post date, a summary of the post and
sometimes the whole post itself. You can open these files directly (here’s the raw file for this blog) but you’ll see there’s a hierarchy of coding that makes it visually uninteresting.
feeds are the lingua franca powering all the cool new websites. It
doesn’t matter what blogging platform you use or what operating system
you’re on: if your software provides an RSS feed I can mix and match it and use it to pull in content to my site.
Examples 1: Photographs: I email all of my adorable kid pictures to the photo sharing site Flickr,
which then provides a syndication feed (“here”). I use a little fancy
patch of coding on my website to pull in the information about the
latest photos (location, caption, etc) so that I can display them on my
homepage. Whenever you go to my Theo age you’ll see the latest Flickr photos of him.
Example 2: Bookmarks. I also use the “social bookmarking” system with the odd name of del.icio.us.
When I find a page I want to bookmark, I click a Delicious button in my
browser, which opens a pop-up window. I write a description, pick a
category or two and hit save. Deliciouis then provides an RSS syndication
feed which I can use to pull together a list of my latest bookmarks and
display it on my website. Wave a few magic wands of complication (pay
no attention to the man behind the curtain!) and you have the main
trick behind Quakerquaker.org.
I’ve simplified both examples a bit but you probably get the point. Syndication feeds are the secret behind blog readers like Bloglines and email subscription services like the one’s I provide for quakerquaker.org.
New to me is the concepts around the Well-Formed Web. As described by Kevin Donahue
“The layman’s premise of the Well-Formed Web is that each site will
have drill-down feeds — a top level feed, item specific feeds, and so
on.” What this means is that you don’t just have one single RSS feed on a site (your latest ten posts) but RSS feeds on everything.
Every category get its own unique feeds (e.g., the last ten posts about
web design) and every post gets its own unique feed tracking its
comments (e.g., this feed of comments from my “Introducing MartinKelley.com” post).
It certainly seems a bit like overkill but computers are doing all the
work and the result gives us a multi-dimensionality that we can use to
pull all sorts of neat things together.