How to Set Up an RSS Feed to Syndicate Your Headlines
Just how easy is it to publish and maintain RSS feeds to your e-mail newsletter or the articles on your site? Relatively easy — at least that’s what I’m saying now.
If you’d asked me a couple of days ago, however, I would have disagreed. I had immersed myself in all the technical details of RSS and installing channel creation tools and was confused. Let me see if I can break through some of the fog to help you figure out how to do this. In short, here’s what’s involved:
- Use the free WebReference RSS Channel Editor to set up a channel and list up to 15 articles.
- Upload the file you’ve created to your webserver.
- Validate the XML to make sure it can be read by the multitude of news aggregation programs.
- Advertise your RSS feed (channel) to various directories and to your site visitors
- Maintain your feed by adding new articles using the RSS Channel Editor
Before we look at each of these points, however, I need to briefly discuss news aggregators and RSS formats.
News aggregators are the software tools used to read the RSS news feeds that you and your customers will subscribe to. To give you an idea, here are screen shots from a couple of the more popular news aggregators for Windows.
FeedDemon larger image
NewsGator for Outlook larger image
A recent PC Magazine reviews four RSS news readers, ranking FeedDemon 1.0 and NewsGator 1.3 higher than FeedReader 2.5 and SharpReader 0.9.2.1 (www.pcmag.com/article2/0,4149,1267205,00.asp). Mac users should look at NetNewsWire Lite. FeedDemon is a stand-alone product, NewsGator is integrated into Microsoft Outlook — a very handy place to view updated feeds. This class of products is still in its infancy and has many competitors, but for now I think I’ll stick with NewsGator (www.webmarketingtoday.com/afd/newsgator.htm).
Various RSS Formats
There’s some controversy over competing RSS format standards. Most feeds use the related standards RSS 0.91 or 2.0, which are pretty similar. A 1.0 version was introduced by a group that wanted to add RDF metadata to make it more robust, thus splitting the standards into two groups. Ben Hammersley, author of Content Syndication with RSS (O’Reilly, 2003, ISBN 0596003838) describes the competing standards fairly, but is a champion of the RDF-based RSS 1.0 format.
I don’t think it makes much difference what standard you adopt at first — the crucial decision is what tool you can find to create your channel. For now the most accessible tools produce RSS 0.91 feeds. All the major news aggregators support all the formats. Of course, the more recent 1.0 and 2.0 standards each offer advantages, but don’t wait until you can produce feeds in these formats. Start now with whatever standard is easiest for you and upgrade later.
1. Create a Channel
To create a RSS news channel that lists the various articles on your site or in your e-mail newsletter, you have four choices:
- Construct it from scratch in Notepad. Not recommended.
- Use a RSS syndication tool built into the content management or blogger software you may be using.
- Prepare your feed from a stand-alone tool such as RSS Channel Editor.
- Have a software tool “scrape” your site and incorporate the most important information it finds there. However, scraping your site with a tool like MyRSS may produce some pretty strange results unless the process is customized (www.myrss.com) and the appropriate sections are marked on your site.
I tried a number of tools and settled on the WebReference RSS Channel Editor (www.webreference.com/cgi-bin/perl/rssedit.pl). This program allows you to retrieve your current RSS file (if you have one set up), and edit it or add to it, up to 15 articles. The program produces RSS 0.91 output and works quite well. Another stand-alone program is the RSS Headline Creator from WebDevTips.com, which produces RSS 2.0 output, but isn’t as easy to maintain your feed as with the RSS Channel Editor.
2. Upload the File
With RSS Channel Editor you click a button “Build RSS” and then copy and paste the code to a file. The extension you use doesn’t really matter to the news aggregators — .rss, .rdf, .xml all work. Now, with your FTP program, you upload your file to your webserver where it can be viewed and automatically checked by news aggregators.
3. Validate the XML
The next step is to check your RSS file to make sure that it is error-free. If you build this file from scratch or “improve” it with a text editor, errors can easily creep in. Of the various validation programs, I found that FEED Validator for RSS and Atom (www.feedvalidator.org) gave the most helpful suggestions to fix errors in the code. Another is Userland RSS Validator (http://aggregator.userland.com/validator).
4. Advertise Your RSS Feed
Once you’ve checked your code, it’s time to let others know about your feed. This has two aspects:
- Place an XML icon on your website hyperlinked to the URL of your RSS feed
- . For site visitors who have news aggregators, this is a clue that allows them to subscribe to the channel — either by right-clicking on the icon and selecting subscribe or some other method. I’ve placed the XML icon on my subscription pop-up and the subscription forms at the bottom of my webpages. The icon doesn’t need any explanation.
- Register your RSS feed with various directories. Syndic8 (www.syndic8.com) is one of the largest and doesn’t cost anything. First, you’ll need to register. Then select “Suggest” from the top menu to give the URL of your RSS feed. After the feed has been reviewed and approved, it will appear in the Syndic8 directory. NewsIsFree (www.newsisfree.com) offers free listings for non-commercial organizations. RSSxpress lists UK sites (http://rssxpress.ukoln.ac.uk).
5. Keep Your Feed Up-to-Date
Finally, you’ll need to maintain your feed by adding new articles using the RSS Channel Editor. Every time you post a new article on your website, remember to list it in your RSS feed also. If you faithfully do this, an increasing number of customers and interested visitors will rely on your RSS feed and will visit you whenever an article of interest appears in their news aggregator.
Displaying the Feed on
Your Home Page
While this isn’t necessary or even appropriate in all cases, consider displaying your own RSS feed on the home page of your website as a guide to what is new inside the site. There are several tools which convert RSS to HTML that you can display on your website. Here are some tools to try. Be aware that getting the various XML and RSS parsing modules installed on your webserver can be tricky, so you may need to enlist a programmer for an hour or so to help you get these one of these programs working:
- News Feed Services from David Carter-Tod is by far the easiest program to employ. You include this URL plus a pointer to your RSS feed URL on your webpage and it generates code which places the feed on your page. No need to install any code on your server (www.wc.cc.va.us/services/news/).
- rss2html.pl by Jonathan Eisenzopf is a Perl program that writes an RSS feed to an HTML file on your server. This file can then be displayed on your webpage using Server Side Includes (www.webreference.com/perl/tutorial/8/).
- Grabrss is a Perl script that functions as an include file to place RSS feeds in a bulleted list (www.pugetsoundsoftware.com/s/grabrss.asp).
I’ve presented a lot of tools in this article for your use, but I think you’ll find it easy to begin your first RSS feed using RSS Channel Editor (www.webreference.com/cgi-bin/perl/rssedit.pl). Why don’t you get started?