An Introduction to RSS Syndication

An Introduction to RSS Syndication
You might have noticed those little orange colored buttons that say XML, RSS, RSS 2.0 or RSS Feed. BellaOnline has one of these buttons on the front page of each section of our site. Go to the front page of the HTML section and you will see a small RSS button at the bottom of the Features list. Well, what do they do? Some of you might have gotten so curious that you clicked on the button. When you did, you probably got a black page or a bunch of text that didn’t make very much sense. Go ahead and give it a try.

What’s the story with these buttons? These little buttons are part of a new syndication feature on the web. It is used by websites, blogs or podcasts to promote or syndicate “what’s new” and it’s a simple way for the visitors of these sites to keep informed when new stuff is added. When RSS syndication first got started, it was used by news related websites for immediate posting of news items. But now that it has caught on, many other types of websites are using this new feature to promote just about anything that their visitors wish to keep informed about. Let’s take a look at how it all works.

The RSS Button

The RSS button is the first step that your visitors will take to “subscribe” to your RSS feed. But unlike subscribing to a newsletter, the visitor doesn’t need to give you his email address. The information attached to this button is all he needs. That information is a URL address that he will copy and paste into his RSS reader program. (More about that next) The trick is to RIGHT click on the RSS button to get a pop-up menu. From this menu, choose to copy the link location (URL). That’s the sole purpose of this button. The URL will look something like this.

The RSS Reader

I promised you that I'd tell you what an RSS reader was. It is a small program that your visitor can download and install on his computer. There are many of these programs on the web. Some of them are free and some you can buy. The cost depends on how many features you want. The RSS reader I am using in the example is part of the AdobeR Bridge program.

The RSS reader works much like a web browser in that it displays the “special page” located at that URL copied from the RSS button. Your website visitor will paste that URL into a input box and the RSS reader program will display the “special page” which, by the way, is called an RSS feed. In the example above, you can see the RSS feed for BellaOnline’s HTML site. In the right panel, you will see the links for the three most recent HTML articles. When you click on one of these links, the list expands to also show a short description for that article.

That Special Page Located at That Special URL

As mentioned before, the “special page” is an RSS feed. Most of these feeds are coded using XML. The RSS reader program can read this XML code and display the information. It is your job as webmaster to make sure that this RSS feed is kept up to date. Each time your visitor uses the reader program, the program “reaches out” and checks to see of you have updated your feed. If you have, it will display the updates automatically.

There are two ways to create and maintain your feed. If you know XML, you can code this page in a text editor just like you code your webpages in HTML. If you don’t have the time, you can automate the process by using an RSS editor which is a wizard-type editor that produces the feed for you. All you need to do is type in the updated information and the program will generate the XML. Then you just upload the updated feed to your server at the URL associated with your RSS button.

Put the Button on Your Site

It's easy to put that RSS button on your site.

1. You will use the HTML anchor tag. For the href attribute you will use the URL of the feed. The example below is the URL for my personal RSS feed that lists the newest article for my three sections here at BellaOnline (HTML, PHP and Digital Art and Design). When I added the button to my site, I put this URL between the quotation marks after the href (href="")

<a href=""></a>

2. Then place the HTML image tag for the RSS button between the opening and closing anchor tag.

<a href=""><img
width="36" height="14" alt="RSS" border="0"></a>

AdobeR product screen shot(s) reprinted with permission from Adobe Systems Incorporated. AdobeR, PhotoshopR, PhotoshopR AlbumTM, IllustratorR, InDesignR, GoLiveR, AcrobatR, CueR, Bridge, DreamweaverR, FlashR, FireworksR, ContributeTM and FlashPaperTM are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Adobe Systems Incorporated in the United States and/or other countries.

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This content was written by Diane Cipollo. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact BellaOnline Administration for details.