The Wonders of RSS feeds

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 Quak​erquak​er​.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 quak​erquak​er​.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 Mar​tinKel​ley​.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.