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What are Feeds?

Feeds are an XML-based format for content distribution on the Internet. It is an excellent way for Internet users to get updated news content and online articles -- the stuff you want -- without having to search for it.

How to Feeds Work?

When a new article is posted or a change made to a web page or blog, the feed keeps track of the changes and delivers them to the feed subscribers. Feeds are most often produced with text, images, podcasts and video, but they can also be produced from many word processing, spreadsheets and other applications that have content that changes.

Why would I want to have the same content on feeds AND web pages?

Feeds simply provide another "channel" or "pipe line" for your content to get to your users. They have one major benefit over browsers though - feeds are designed to deliver constantly changing information quickly and efficiently. Browser users have to come to your web site or blog to read your latest content; feeds deliver that same content to your users automatically and without the need to request it.

Deciding What is Best For Your Needs

Choosing how best to create a feed for your site requires that you consider the following factors:

  • Static vs. Dynamic Feeds - Feeds can be created statically or dynamically, much as web pages can. If your site does not support dynamic web pages, then it probably also does not support dynamic feeds. Also, if your feed will get many hits, making it static will reduce load on your web server.

  • Feed File Format Nearly all feeds these days are written using XML, but even XML has dialects (or sub-languages) from which you must choose. The most popular choices include RSS, a combination of RSS and RDF, and ATOM. Each offers strengths and disadvantages.

  • Your Site's Current State Odds are that you do not want to reorganize your entire web site to be able to take advantage of feeds. If you use a Content Management System (CMS), investigate whether it supports feeds or has downloadable extensions for them. If you do not use a CMS, you will have to build your feeds by yourself using a text editor, create scripts (provided your server will allow and support it) to generate feeds for you, or use an application designed to create feeds right on your desktop.

RSS 2.0

RSS 2.0 has the widest acceptance of any feed format and is most widely used but also has signifigant downfalls. RSS does not allow any well-formed XML markup in it’s content - it only supports plain text or escaped HTML which means it’s best application is one where simplicity reigns supreme.

RSS is the simple to create - you can do so with any plain text editor. It has only three required fields for each "item" - a title, link and description. There are a variety of additional but optional fields but some key features like incremental updates are missing.

ATOM 1.0

Atom is a newer protocol and was created as a group effort within The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). It is much more robust and feature-rich than RSS. For one thing, content can include everything from plain text to binary. Because Atom is based on XML, it can have extensions. For example, it would be possible to create an Atom extension that is specific to the downloading of MP3 songs. However, there are no specific guidelines as to how to interpret extensions nor is there a central location where all extensions are listed.

Atom is a good protocol to use when your content can be dynamically served and you have good automation tools in your arsenal.

RSS Library for .NET and ATOM Library for .NET

Are you a Microsoft programmer? Can you code in any of the .NET languages? If so, you can obtain ToolButton's RSS Library for .NET and ATOM Library for .NET. These libraries do all the "heavy lifting" of coding in .NET and make the job of reading, creating, and parsing feeds very easy to program.