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RSS Gimme Yubbies

Last night I experimented with a new technology and learned it to a certain degree. Currently, as far as I know, I have about three or four people who visit my site on a somewhat regular basis. If I am lucky, there might be a total of ten or twenty people who have seen my site altogether. I am certainly not seeking wealth and fame, but I think it would be fun to see more interaction with my site from like-minded people. I enjoy receiving comments and emails about the site, and I am currently working on developing several new ways for visitors to interact.

In efforts to gain a little more exposure, I decided to see if I could get EsoBlog added to some blog communities and directories. I searched around until I found a pretty good list of weblog communities and did my best to add my site into the mix.

While searching for ways to extend my audience I came across a technology I was formerly unaware of called "RSS". RSS, Rich Site Summary (or Really Simple Syndication), is a manifestation of XML that syndicates (publishes) web content in article-like form. At first, it seemed to me that RSS was a somewhat cloudy method, but after a fair amount of searching on the internet, I found some clearly written documentation on the subject. RSS is indeed a loose term for there are many versions and syntactical variations that claim the name "RSS". Common to seemingly all the variations are several XML tags. Take a look at the feed I created for this blog for an example of the descriptions that follow.

The entire body of the RSS document is enclosed in an <rss> tag, much like the <html> tag in an HTML document, specifying which version of RSS is being implemented. Inside the <rss> tag is a <channel> tag, much like the <body> tag in an HTML document. The first three tags inside the channel are a <title>, <description> and <link>. These describe the root content and location of the news site or weblog. All the following content blocks represent the individual news articles or blog entries, and are each enclosed in a <item> tag. Each item can have a <title>, <description> and <link> of their own.

This simple document structure makes it possible to provide updated news or journal content to anyone who wants to subscribe to the site's provided content. The entire XML document is typically referred to as an "RSS Feed" because it allows special web sites and software to monitor the XML content and regularly decide if there is anything new. When new content is detected in the feed it is sent along to anyone subscribed to the site, making it possible to provide immediate awareness of new site content. Many people are conveniently subscribed to numerous RSS feeds, and they are free to wait for new content to appear through the feed, rather than visiting each page regularly to check for new articles or blog entries.

I learned the bare essentials for creating a simple RSS feed last night, and wrote a simple XML document and uploaded it to my site. I then searched around the web and found some sites where it is possible to submit the feed for free. Eventually Esotropiart EsoBlog will be viewable through several major RSS feed and Blog collections. For those who have a free membership to Yahoo, it is possible to sign into MyYahoo and add my RSS feed to your home page through the "Add Content" button. There are numerous other free applications that will inform you of new content without having to log into a particular web site.

As I research the specifics of the newest RSS specification, I will probably add new functionality to the feed to make it more powerful and useful. Moreover, for now I believe it works like a charm! Soon, I'll add the familiar little blue/orange icon to the menu on my blog page for those who are used to seeing that. I'm still not sure exactly why it is important to provide a link to the XML, but conformance to standards is sometimes nice.

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