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To understand RSS, you must be in the correct mindset. Think about the types of websites that offer RSS feeds. First, there are the news and article websites. These make up the majority of the websites using RSS. There are also forums, web portals, search engines, and news aggregators, to name a few. The one thing all these types of websites have in common is that they contain a lot of information. Basic organization of this information is a challenge. Organizing it for syndication and presentation in customized formats is an even greater challenge. Enter RSS.
RSS categorizes information by processing tags that envelope each chunk or part of the information. RSS uses the tags to organize the information into something like an outline format. All information can be broken down into separate parts, smaller chunks. As an example, an article website is made up of articles. Each article is its own part of the site. Within each article, there are parts as well, such as the title of the article, a description of the article, the publication date, the author, and so on.
The RSS feed reassembles the categorized parts and organizes the categories to present the information uniformly. First, RSS presents the header information such as the version of Extensible Markup Language (XML) and various comments. This is more for the computers than it is for the readers. Next, RSS presents information about the website. The information presented here can vary, but typically there will be the name of the site, a link to the site, the webmaster's e-mail address, and the last time the feed was updated. The next part to an RSS feed is the actual content.
To understand more about how RSS organizes information, it's useful to see how an RSS feed is published. Even if you have no intention to publish a feed, hang in there with us for the next section.
Because RSS focuses on organizing content, creating an RSS feed is quite simple. The example below is extremely simplified. RSS has quite a bit more flexibility than is demonstrated here, but most webmasters need only a basic RSS feed.
An RSS feed can be broken up into a few simple parts. Similar to regular HTML, the first part of an RSS feed is the header information. A sample RSS header is located below.
The header is normally the same from feed to feed. There are only two things you need to make note of here: the "Publishing tool used" line and the RSS version line. The second line, which reads "Publishing tool used" is simply a comment line. It's a good idea to label your work in a way that makes sense to you – for example, " MySite.com Auto RSS Generator" or something to the same effect.
The second thing to note is the RSS version number. There are actually seven different RSS versions. Chances are very good that RSS 0.91 will suit your needs. It's the simplest version available, and it seems to cover basic needs.
After the header comes the actual content. Channel tags surround all of the content. Below is a snippet of an RSS feed containing just two stories. Notice how the channel tags frame the content.
Held within the channel tags is the syndicated content: the title of the site, the site description, a place for a webmaster's e-mail address, and the language of the content. You can add more tags if you like. For example, if you want to include information on when the feed was last updated, you will include the tag lastBuildDate. Whatever information you want to give those who are syndicating your content, you can give them. (Visit http://www.make-rss-feeds.com/rss-tags.htm for a catalogue of RSS tags and further RSS information.)
Following this initial information are the item tags. Use the item tags to separate the syndicated content or pieces. In this example, the item tags separate each article. If you are a search engine, you separate your listings with the item tag. If you are a poet, you separate your poems with the item tag. Again, think about this in the most basic sense. Each item tag separates items.
Within the item tags is the bread and butter of your RSS feed. In the above example, each item tag separates an article, or story. Within the item tag, we have more tags, which identify the title of the article, a link to the full article, the article's author, the date published, and a description of the article. Again, by using the appropriate tags you can include more information or less information depending on what your goals are.
There is one final step to create your RSS feed: closing all your tags. RSS is very precise about the application of tags; a complete tag consists of an opener and a closer. So, when creating your RSS feed, make sure you close all RSS tags that you open. In other words, be sure to close each <title> with </title> and each <item> with </item> and each <channel> with </channel>, and so on.
After tagging your information, save it as an XML document – by giving it the ".xml" extension – and you will have a valid RSS feed! You can actually save the document with any file extension you like, but it will not show up as a nice looking XML document in a browser unless you save it as .xml. For our example, the tagged and publishable RSS feed looks as follows:
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="ISO-8859-1" ?>
Join us in the next edition of IN for RSS Part II: Feeding Your Website.
Mark Daoust is the owner of Site Reference (http://www.site-reference.com) Marketing Articles. Thousands of marketing articles along with marketing resources and marketing forums are available.
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