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RSS and content syndication

Distributing your headlines in style. 5/9 Web Dev Weekly hed: RSS and content syndication dek: Distributing your headlines in style by Garth Gillespie

Publishing on the Internet has always been a tricky game. For a site to be successful it needed many eyeballs every day to view the content and the ads. Getting the eyeballs to your site is the tricky part. Producing content is only one part of the equation. Getting your content featured on other sites with links back to your site is the tricky part.

A few years ago, some bright folks had the mind to become content syndicators. iSyndicate, Screaming Media, and Inlumen, among others, would take your content and help distribute it to other sites. The idea was to have a central fee-based place for Web site producers to come and find content to then place on their own sites. The original content creators would get paid based on how the syndicated content was used. If the content used was merely a link back to the original site, the originator received a small fee. If the entire article was used, the fee was larger. It sounded good but the reality was that the best-case scenario had the content creator getting about a buck per article–not a great solution for content providers.

In addition to the poor financial rewards, there was also the incredible amount of wasted time in the setup of the feeds to these syndicators. iSyndicate was the only one who seemed to have its act together by asking for a well-planned XML document that was easy to create from content already stored in databases or other XML documents. The others had really bizarre and inefficient scrapers and other mechanisms that offered no interoperability and felt generally clumsy.

About the same time, Mozilla was working away on the next version of Netscape (Netscape 6). The new UI would be first introduced as the revamped netscape.com personalized homepage called My Netscape. One of the nifty features that early users noticed was the many windows that could be populated with news headlines from a variety of different sites. As more and more developers discovered this feature, more and more headlines became available. These headlines were being delivered via the Rich Site Summary (RSS) specification of XML.

RSS is an XML spec for describing Web data that is ideal for news and content feeds. Until a couple weeks ago, My Netscape users were able to populate their homepage with newsfeeds from many different sources. Unfortunately, in keeping with my walled garden theory, AOL has now removed non-Netscape feeds from My Netscape. Yet the RSS news feeds that were created still exist and are waiting for you to include them on your sites. Scripts to display RSS feeds are available in your favorite scripting language flavor (Perl, PHP, ASP, Java, etc.) and in only a short time your site can be displaying recent headlines just like the big sites. Furthermore, if your site is a content producer, creating RSS feeds of your site’s original content is an easy way to make your content headlines available on other sites and thus get some eyeballs back to your site. Best of all, it’s all free.

RSS is the most popular XML specification so far due to its simplicity to create and use. For more information check this recent Web reference article or check here for a small list of RSS feeds available for free use.

Garth Gillespie is architect and chief technologist for ComputerUser.com.

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