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Using RSS Feeds for Content


We live in the information age, and there’s just no getting around it. Information and news happens every single day, and savvy site surfers will expect you to update your content regularly. In fact, they’d prefer you to do that daily, or even hourly. And yes I mean 24/7 hours.

But you gotta sleep, right? And have some time off occasionally. So instead of spending every waking hour relentlessly surfing around from site to site looking for content, wouldn’t you prefer it to be streamed in to your site? Well now you can, thanks to a very clever service, RSS.

RSS works so well that a lot of site owners swear it stands for ’Really Simple Syndication’. Why is it simple? Because you just select the content you like and have it delivered directly to your site.

If you're a busy person—and who isn’t, these days—RSS feeds can take the hassle out of staying up-to-date, by streaming in the very latest information that you are interested in.

So where do you get this good stuff? Well, if it’s news you want, most of the major news sites provide it since it is growing rapidly in popularity. A few news services that provide it are Guardian, New York Times and CNN.

How do I start using RSS feeds?
Well, the first thing you’re gonna need is a news reader. There are many different versions of these, some of which are accessed using a browser, and some of which are downloadable applications. All allow you to display and subscribe to the RSS feeds you want.

My top picks for news readers, listed by the operating system they work with, are:

1. Mac OS X: NetNewsWire This is a simple yet elegant Mac-like aggregator that any one can use, yet it's powerful.
2. Windows: SharpReader A very simple tool, but it delivers the goods.
3. Linux: Straw The best very aggregator for GNOME.
4. Web: Bloglines Enough said.

Now, after you’ve chosen a news reader, all you have to do is to decide what content you want. For example, if you would like the latest BBC News Entertainment stories, simply visit the Entertainment section and you will notice an orange RSS button on the left hand side.

The RSS button typically looks like this example from the BBCpage.

If you click on the RSS button you can subscribe to the feed in various ways: you can either drag the URL of the RSS feed into your news reader, or you can cut and paste the URL into a new feed in your news reader.

Some browsers, including Firefox, Opera and Safari, have functionality that automatically picks up RSS feeds for you. To make absolutely sure, check the details on the homesites of those browsers.

RSS feeds are a great way to get free content streaming onto your pages.
The only downside is that most of the free RSS feeds are news-oriented or entertainment-oriented, so if you run, say, a site that focuses on the latest video games, your audience may not really care that they can get the latest news streaming in there.

As far as the nitty-gritty, each RSS channel can contain up to 15 items and is easily parsed using Perl or other open source software. If you want more details, I suggest you check out Jonathan Eisenzopf’s excellent article in the February issue of Web Techniques.

But you don’t really have to worry too much over the details, since a simple Google search on .free open source RSS feed scripts. will produce the code you need to create your own RSS channel.

The next step, once you’ve created and validated your RSS text file, is to register it at the various aggregators, and start watching your traffic really spike. This happens because now any site can grab and display your feed regularly, which will drive traffic straight to your site.

It gets better.if you update your RSS file, all the external sites that subscribe to your feed will be automatically updated. What could be easier, other than watching those nice, fat checks from your Google AdSense ads roll in? Well, if you use RSS feeds, they will work together!


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