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
- 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 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 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.