RSS Feeds

Posted by Arlo on Jul 14, 2004 under Website

What does RSS stand for? Hell if I know! Trying to figure that out may be harder than just explaining what it does. RSS or RDF links are syndication feeds for dynamic websites in the XML format. Sound complicated? Okay, well, yeah – it is a bit, I guess. Think of it this way: When I set up an RSS feed on my ‘blog, you can install that feed in your news aggregator so that you can be notified “ticker-style” whenever I add a new entry.


All right, let’s back up, shall we? If you’ve been following along in my ‘blog, you know that I’ve been trying to increase awareness of my new photoblog website. Well, when I was adding my site to all those ‘blog indices, I noticed some of them were asking for a different configuration. Instead of simply listing my blog in a yahoo-like directory, these sites wanted to track the actual updating of my blog, instead.

I did a little more reading on the topic this week and a couple evenings ago I stumbled onto a page full of news aggregator applications. A news aggregator is, in this humble but frequent web-surfer’s opinion, a very cool thing. My daily online rounds include many sites that have dynamic content (Slashdot, Fark, Penny Arcade, and others) and I waste a lot of time browsing through articles that don’t necessarily interest me. What I hadn’t really noticed was that almost all of them contain an innocuous little RSS link hidden somewhere on the page.

Most of the news aggregator screenshots I looked at seemed very complicated. I didn’t want to get in over my head, so I grabbed the simplest aggregator I could find (EffNews RSS Reader) and deigned it worthy of an install. Two minutes later, I was draggin’-‘n’-droppin’ RSS links and seeing what it could do. Soon, I had a view of all these sites’ headlines arrayed out in front of me. Now (in one window, mind you!) I could browse the topics of almost all the sites I frequent in a given day. I was surprised at how simple it was to set up, but I suppose that’s because EffNews wasn’t loaded down with things like “useful options.” Not the most impressive piece of software out there, but it did allow me to see the potential.

I went back to the big list of aggregators and looked for something else, something stronger for the manly surfer that I am. The next download – FeedReader – was a keeper. Not only did it add a more user-friendly interface, but I also got an integrated browser, customization options, and (the winner by a mile) Messenger-like, pop-up notifications. Now, whenever one of my favorite sites is updated – I’m notified almost as soon as it happens!

This was cool and all, but would I be able to do the same thing with my own web log? That research took a couple days, but I finally figured it out. All I had to do was upgrade my Greymatter software from version 1.21d to 1.3, get my hosting provider to install a PERL module, install the gm-rss.cgi mod I found on the Greymatter Fourms and troubleshoot the easy-to-get-mixed-up instructions.

But it works now, and that’s what counts. If you want to try it out, download yourself a news aggregator and then find a way to import into it the RSS/RDF/XML link over there on the left (drag-and-drop may work, then again you might have to type in the URL by hand.)

So at this point you might be asking yourself, “Self… why did he go to all that effort?” The answer is two-fold, my ‘blog readin’ friend:

1) Now I can feel better about discontinuing the infrequently-used, but still a pain-in-the-ass guilt trip known to all as “The E-mail Notification of Blog Updates,” and
2) This was really just a trial run so that I’d know how to set up on my photoblog in a couple weeks!