Saturday, August 26, 2006

Syndication Feeds and Newsreaders

There are millions of websites out there on the Web, and not all of them are updated regularly. Anybody who uses the web, with any regularity, has dozens of favourite websites, and checks each one periodically for updates. And anyone who uses the web, with any intensity, knows the frustration of either checking the same website repeatedly and seeing the same material, or checking a website one day and seeing some information several days old, that you would have benefited from greatly, if known sooner.

So what to do? Originally, folks who ran websites that really wanted visitors would get an email address from each visitor. Periodically, or when they had written a particularly interesting article, they would email to all of their registered visitors
Check out the website, read this article.

But the problem with most "Hey check out my website" email was myriad.
  • Many folks wouldn't subscribe, for fear of spam.
  • Some email systems would treat the email, received as spam.
  • Folks even getting the email wouldn't read it promptly.
  • The email never went out often enough to suit everybody, or it went out too frequently to suit some folks.

So nowadays, properly designed web sites, and blogs, include a replica of each page, that you never see when viewing a page in your browser. This replica, called a news feed, can be read only by a newsreader. You subscribe to a news feed by adding its URL to your newsreader. You read your newsreader when its convenient, your newsreader checks all subscribed web sites, and gives you a list of all feeds that have changes relevant to your needs.

The web site is updated when convenient to the author, and you read the updates when convenient to you. Your newsreader tells you which sites have changed, and you only spend time reading the changes. Simple.

You can view the news feeds that interest you using a newsreader, or other products.
  • As a stand alone program. NewsGator (not free) is well known.
  • As a browser add-in. If you have Firefox (and I hope that you do), you can get Sage, a free Firefox extension.
  • As a standalone reader, in a web page. Bloglines, and Google Reader, are two well known examples.
  • If your web site (blog) supports JavaScript, you can have your feed hosted on a server, with a JavaScript front end embedded in your web page. FeedBurner and Feed Digest are two services that provide this possibility.
  • If you have a Blogger blog with a Layouts template (and possibly other blog products), you can add a Page Element, selected as a Feed.
  • You can find dozens of other possibilities in such websites as Atom Enabled, and News On Feeds.

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