Syndicating Web Sites with RSS Feeds for Dummies

by Ellen Finkelstein

Foreword by Chris Pirillo

Find Out how to make customer contact easier and friendlier with RRS


Part I: Controlling the Information Explosion

Part II: Developing Great RSS Content
Part III: Launching Your RSS Feed
Part IV: Getting the Most Out of RSS Feeds
Part V: The Part of Tens
Appendix: Setting Up a Web Site

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Syndicating Web Sites with RSS Feeds for Dummies

About the Author
Ellen Finkelstein has written numerous best-selling computer books on
AutoCAD, PowerPoint, Flash, and other topics. She writes articles on
AutoCAD and PowerPoint for Web sites, ezines, and magazines. As an Adjunct
Instructor of Management at Maharishi University of Management, she has
taught courses on Human Resources and eBusiness. Her Web site, www.ellen
finkelstein.com, offers tips and downloads for AutoCAD and PowerPoint
and that’s where you’ll find her RSS feeds. She writes at home so she can take
the casserole out of the oven on time.

Author’s Acknowledgments
This book was quite a new venture for me in terms of the topic and I was
assisted by many people who are as energized about RSS as I am. But first, I’d
like to thank Melody Layne, my Acquisitions Editor, who fought for this book
for months, because RSS wasn’t quite big enough on the radar yet. Her support
made this book possible.

While I was writing this book I received able advice and help from my project
editors, Becky Huehls at the beginning and then Nancy Stevenson. Nancy’s
developmental editing helped make the book clearer and more logical. She
also kept track of numerous production details that brought this book through
to completion. John Edwards (no, not the Senator) was my copy editor. Not
only did he do a great job of correcting my grammar and punctuation, but he
made some excellent suggestions that added to the book.

I came across Jeff Barr, the owner of the well-known RSS site, Syndic8.com,
when I was preparing my proposal. He was cheerfully helpful in answering my
questions and I was grateful when he agreed to do the technical editing. Jeff
is an RSS expert and has been involved with RSS for years, before most of us
even knew it existed. His comments and corrections have immeasurably
improved this book. He even wrote me little stories of RSS lore, some of
which were very funny. Thanks, Jeff!

Chris Pirillo, the owner of the well-known Lockergnome Web site kindly wrote
an excellent foreword for the book. Chris is passionate about RSS and maintains
one of the best RSS feeds on the subject. Chris’ excitement about RSS
shines through as he makes the case for RSS, so be sure to read the foreword.
Nita Travis was my researcher. Because I was writing on such a tight deadline,
she was there to find me numerous Web resources related to RSS, including
RSS and blogging histories, great articles, and more. How this engineer,
turned mother of three, turned researcher (and that’s not all she does) does
it all, I don’t know, but I’m very thankful. And she does it all very well.

I became interested in RSS through the evangelism of two people: Amy Gahran
(blog.contentious.com) and Robin Good (www.masternewmedia.com). Their
infectious enthusiasm shone through and made me decide that RSS would
make a great topic for a For Dummies book. Along the way, many other people
supported me, mostly by answering my questions. Some of these people, in no
special order, were Dale Janssen (NewsletterByRSS), Rok Hrastnik (author of
the ebook Unleash the Marketing and Publishing Power of RSS ), Renee Blodgett
(Blodgett Communications), Rodney Rumford (The Info Guru, LLC), Dan
Connolly (W3C), Campbell Mander (NewzAlert Composer), and Anne Hennegar
(TimeAtlas.com). I’m sure there are more, so please excuse me if I omitted your
name. The point is that there’s a great community out there, willing to support
people who want to learn about RSS. Thanks to all of you.

Finally, I want to thank my family who put up with my constant writing. They
are always supportive.

Introduction
Syndicating Web Sites with RSS Feeds For Dummies is your friendly guide to
all things RSS. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication (among other
possible things), so you hold in your hands a “really simple book” that
anyone can use to create news feeds quickly and easily. I start with lots of
information about RSS readers so that you can get started reading feeds first,
and then I move on to give you the information you need to create feeds yourself.

About This Book
After I had maintained my own Web site for several years, I had the opportunity
to teach several courses on creating Web sites. Being a writer, I naturally
emphasized the importance of content and organization. Then I started an
e-mail newsletter and saw firsthand some of the problems that entails. When
I first heard about RSS, I was immediately excited about the possibilities and
thought it was a great idea. (My publisher took longer to come around!) And
I was impressed with how quickly it seemed to be catching on.
Having written books on several other computer topics, I decided that I
wanted to write a book on RSS. The only book available on the subject was
directed toward programmers. I thought that people who weren’t programmers
also needed a tool to help them get started with RSS. After all, most
people who have Web sites are not programmers; they are people who want
to sell a product or service, or communicate news and ideas. 
These people need RSS, too.
Because RSS is fairly new, many people who want to create RSS feeds have
never even subscribed to one. So I cover the topic from the beginning, assuming
that you aren’t already subscribed to dozens of feeds. The rest of the
book provides you with the tools you need to create your own RSS feeds. I
also ruminate on best practices and ways to promote your feed — and your Web site.
RSS is a rapidly expanding field, and it seems as if each day brings a new
twist. I explain some of the more interesting uses for RSS, such as podcasting
and republishing RSS feeds on your site.

How to Use This Book
You can use this book to find just the information you need and hop around
from chapter to chapter as you see fit. If you know a little about RSS, you can
skim through Part I and just read what interests you. Whenever you need to
know more, you can come back, and this book will be there for you. If you
later decide that you want to create your feed from scratch or market it more
effectively, you can find that information when you’re ready for it.
Keep Syndicating Web Sites with RSS Feeds For Dummies handy; it can be a
loyal assistant whenever you need some RSS help.

Foolish Assumptions
I assume that you are computer literate and that you know some basics
about Web sites. If you want more information about creating a Web site, try
Creating Web Pages For Dummies, by Bud E. Smith (whom I know from the
days when he was writing books on AutoCAD and whose too-busy schedule
was what started me on my writing career — thanks Bud!) and Arthur Bebak.
I also expect you to know your operating system. RSS is remarkably platform
independent, which means that you can read and create RSS feeds in
Windows, Mac OS, or Linux (or any other operating system you’re using).
However, I work in Windows, so I wrote this book using Windows in all the
examples. I provide a list of some RSS readers for Mac OS, Linux, and others.
For the rest of the book, if you’re not using Windows, you need to make some
minor adjustments here and there.
If you’re interested in creating a news feed for your blog, I assume that you
know something about blogging.
Chapter 4 specifically discusses blogging, but for a great deal more, read
Buzz Marketing with Blogs For Dummies by Susannah Gardner.

Conventions Used in This Book
Understanding typographical conventions helps you understand what I’m
talking about. A typographic convention is not a convention of typographers.
As you can see in the previous sentence (for the word not), I sometimes use
italics for emphasis. I also use italics when I introduce a new term that you
may not know. Look nearby for the definition.
Later in the book, when I discuss how to create an RSS feed from scratch,
I show you some XML code and then I use a special typeface, like this.
If I give you an instruction to type something into a dialog box or Web form,
I put it in boldface type, like this.
I often provide URLs (addresses) of Web sites (or RSS feeds). The convention
www.xxx.com means http://www.xxx.com. Most browsers automatically
insert the http://, so you can enter the URL without it. Other Web-site
addresses do not begin with www; they begin with http:// only. In these
cases, I give you the address as xxx.com.

When I say “Choose File➪Save As” or something similar, it means to click the
File menu at the top of the program you’re in and choose Save As from the
menu that opens. When you need to use a toolbar or dialog box button, I tell
you to click it. On the other hand, if I tell you to select some text, it means to
highlight it by clicking next to it and dragging across it with your mouse.

How This Book Is Organized
I’ve organized this book in the order that I think will help you understand RSS
from scratch, and then I develop your understanding and skills to a more
sophisticated level. I don’t know exactly how much you already know or want
to know, so I’ve tried to include all the important stuff in the order most
people need to know it.
More specifically, I’ve divided the book into five parts plus an appendix. Each
part has two or more chapters that relate to the topic of that part. In the next
few sections, I explain what each part contains.
Part I: Controlling the
Information Explosion
Part I provides you with an overview of RSS, including its context in the communication
revolution and how RSS started. Chapter 1 explains why RSS is so
useful for subscribers and why publishers like RSS so much. I also talk about
how companies can use RSS.
Chapter 2 gets right down to choosing an RSS reader. I cover the two types of
readers and the advantages and disadvantages of each. Chapter 3 goes on to
explain how to find the best news feeds and get them into your reader so that
you can start reading. I end up with a short section on getting RSS on your
PDA or mobile phone.
Part II: Developing Great RSS Content
Before you create your RSS feed, you should consider what you want to write
about and why. Chapter 4 is about blogging and how to use RSS to spread and
publicize your blog. Chapter 5 is a more general chapter about writing to get
the results you want. I talk about choosing an audience, deciding on a topic,
and finding resources for content. Because many people use RSS feeds to
bring traffic to their Web site, I also discuss how to optimize a Web site for
best search engine ranking and how to use RSS to market your site.
Part III: Launching Your RSS Feed
In this part, I explain the ways to create an RSS feed. Chapter 6 discusses the
various RSS formats so that you can choose the one you want. I start by
showing you the easiest way to create an RSS feed from Web-site content in
Chapter 6. I also explain how to structure a Web site for the easiest translation
to an RSS feed.
Chapter 7 gets into the nitty-gritty of the XML files that are the basis of RSS
and shows you how to create a feed from scratch. It isn’t hard — I promise —
and you don’t have to understand XML to do it. But you see some of the
advanced options that are available. I also show you how to make sure that
your feed works perfectly, using a simple Web-based validation service. Then I
explain some options for automating the creation of an RSS feed in Chapter 8.
Chapter 9 explains how to create the newest kind of RSS feed, a podcast. A
podcast includes a multimedia file, usually an MP3 file. People use podcasts
to create independent talk shows and music broadcasts.
Part IV: Getting the Most
Out of RSS Feeds
Here I give you the information you need to continue to develop your feeds
and increase their value. Chapter 10 discusses best practices, including validation,
filename extensions, timeliness, and the choice of headlines.
Chapter 11 covers some ways to promote your feed, including registration
with directories, links to your feed, your RSS or XML button, promotion of
RSS, an e-zine, and more. Chapter 12 explains how to resyndicate RSS feeds
by placing them on your Web site so that you can pull together and incorporate
the most appropriate news for your visitors.
Part V: The Part of Tens
The For Dummies series is well known for the Part of Tens, where you get
great lists that describe the best of the best. In this part, Chapter 13 includes
my list of the ten best RSS readers. Chapter 14 covers ten ways to market
your Web site, and Chapter 15 collects all the best RSS resources that I could
find — in ten categories, of course!
In case you don’t already have a Web site, I’ve added an appendix that
explains the basics of how to set up a Web site, from registering your own
URL and finding a Web host to choosing an HTML editor, organizing your
menus, and adding your content. I briefly explain how to sell from your site,
upload content, and test your site until it works just the way you want it to.


Table of Contents
Foreword .....................................................................xxi
Introduction ..................................................................1
About This Book ...............................................................................................1
How to Use This Book ......................................................................................2
Foolish Assumptions ........................................................................................2
Conventions Used in This Book .....................................................................2
How This Book Is Organized ...........................................................................3
Part I: Controlling the Information Explosion ....................................3
Part II: Developing Great RSS Content .................................................4
Part III: Launching Your RSS Feed .........................................................4
Part IV: Getting the Most Out of RSS Feeds .........................................4
Part V: The Part of Tens .........................................................................5
About the Companion Web Site ......................................................................5
Icons Used in This Book ..................................................................................5
Where to Go from Here ....................................................................................6
Part I: Controlling the Information Explosion ...................7
Chapter 1: RSS in the Communication Revolution . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .9
Everywhere an Information ............................................................................9
News on every conceivable subject ...................................................11
The problem of delivery ......................................................................12
Aggregating news ..................................................................................12
Keeping up with endless changes ......................................................14
Getting an Overview of RSS ...........................................................................14
Examining the RSS infrastructure .......................................................15
Who is using RSS? .................................................................................16
Exploring the Friendship of Blogging and RSS ...........................................20
Going from universal to personal .......................................................20
Anyone can be a publisher ..................................................................20
Peeping in on millions of diaries with RSS ........................................21
Envisioning Where RSS Is Today . . . and Tomorrow .................................21
Understanding the Advantages of RSS for Subscribers ............................22
Exploring the Advantages of RSS for Publishers ........................................23
Using RSS at Your Company ..........................................................................24
How RSS facilitates online business ...................................................24
Providing instant gratification on your Web site ..............................25
Being noticed amidst the buzz ............................................................26
Controlling information flow ...............................................................26
Using RSS on an intranet or extranet .................................................28
Managing documents with RSS ...........................................................28
Chapter 2: Choosing an RSS Feed Reader . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .31
Deciding on the Type of Reader ...................................................................31
Web-based readers ...............................................................................32
Software readers ...................................................................................36
Simple or full-featured? ........................................................................38
Choosing a Web-Based Service .....................................................................40
Choosing Software ..........................................................................................41
Chapter 3: Subscribing to RSS Feeds . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .45
Finding News Feeds ........................................................................................45
Looking for the orange or blue button ..............................................46
Using RSS directories ...........................................................................48
Using the list in your reader ................................................................49
Creating a new feed from a search .....................................................49
Importing an OPML file ........................................................................51
Getting the Feed into Your Reader ...............................................................51
Using the URL ........................................................................................52
Choosing from a list .............................................................................56
Using Your RSS Reader ..................................................................................56
Choosing the feed .................................................................................56
Reading the headlines ..........................................................................57
Getting the rest of the story ................................................................58
Making sure that you have the latest news .......................................59
Getting alerts — or not ........................................................................59
Mark as read or important ..................................................................60
Using search and bookmarks ..............................................................60
Sending a feed as e-mail .......................................................................61
Configuring the view ............................................................................61
Unsubscribing to RSS Feeds ..........................................................................63
Getting RSS on Your PDA or Mobile Phone .................................................63
Part II: Developing Great RSS Content ..........................65
Chapter 4: Using RSS to Spread Your Blog . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .67
Bloggers Unite! ................................................................................................68
Creating a Blog ...............................................................................................70
Choosing a blogging service ...............................................................71
Getting started ......................................................................................84
Creating a Blog with Your HTML Editor ......................................................85
Maintaining Your Blog ....................................................................................86
Archive this! ..........................................................................................87
Getting input for your blog ..................................................................87
Adding ads .............................................................................................88
Finding other ways to make money ...................................................89
Publicizing Your Blog with RSS .....................................................................89
Chapter 5:Writing for Results . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .91
Picking an Audience .......................................................................................92
Using Full Text or Links? ................................................................................92
Deciding What You Want to Say ...................................................................95
Attracting new customers ...................................................................95
Keeping current customers happy .....................................................96
Communicating with employees or colleagues ................................97
Providing news ......................................................................................98
Holding forth on your opinions ..........................................................99
Offering your expertise ........................................................................99
Finding Content Resources .........................................................................100
Using blogs and RSS feeds .................................................................101
Using e-zines and discussion groups ...............................................102
Using the news ....................................................................................102
Scouring Web sites one by one .........................................................103
Making news personal ......................................................................104
Using nonelectronic sources .............................................................105
Adding Value .................................................................................................105
Using RSS to Market Your Site ....................................................................106
Coordinating with your e-mail newsletter .......................................106
Delivering promotions and other marketing content ....................107
Sending out press releases ................................................................107
Creating a Web Site Based on RSS Feeds ...................................................107
Part III: Launching Your RSS Feed .............................111
Chapter 6: Creating Your First Feed . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .113
Understanding the Formats ........................................................................113
From 0.91 to 2.0 and Atom, too .........................................................114
Picking the format that’s right for you .............................................114
Optimizing Your Site for RSS .......................................................................115
Deciding on the Web page structure ................................................116
Maintaining relations between your feed and your site ................117
The feed stands alone ........................................................................122
Creating an RSS Feed the Easy Way ..........................................................123
Filling in the blanks with UKOLN ......................................................123
Using NewzAlert Composer ..............................................................127
Using FeedForAll .................................................................................131
Editing Your Feed — Again and Again .......................................................132
Editing feeds and items in UKOLN ...................................................133
Editing feeds and items in NewzAlert Composer
or FeedForAll ...................................................................................133
Reading Your First Feed — Finally! ............................................................134
Uploading your RSS feed ...................................................................134
Validating your RSS feed ....................................................................134
Subscribe! ............................................................................................136
Chapter 7: Creating RSS Feeds from Scratch . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .137
First, What is XML? ......................................................................................137
Understanding the RSS File Structure ........................................................138
Declaring the XML version and encoding .......................................138
Dealing with illegal characters ..........................................................139
Choosing a file type ............................................................................140
Staying simple with RSS version 0.91 ...............................................140
Graduating to RSS version 1.0 ...........................................................144
Getting current with RSS version 2.0 ...............................................146
Splitting the Atom ...............................................................................149
What difference does it make? ..........................................................152
Creating Your Own RSS File .........................................................................152
Starting from a template ....................................................................153
Using existing feeds as an example ..................................................154
Taking Your Feed for a Test Drive ..............................................................155
Uploading your RSS file ......................................................................155
Validating your feed ...........................................................................156
Troubleshooting feed problems .......................................................157
Subscribing to your feed ...................................................................157
Chapter 8: Automating RSS Creation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .159
Choosing an Automated RSS Tool ..............................................................159
Using Blogging Software ....................................................................160
Using Content Management Tools and Databases .........................160
Scraping from HTML ..........................................................................161
Using FeedFire’s online service ........................................................162
Using W3C’s online service ...............................................................165
Converting E-Mail to RSS .............................................................................171
NewslettersByRSS ...............................................................................171
iUplog ...................................................................................................172
Using Advanced Tools .................................................................................174
Chapter 9: Podcasting: Adding Multimedia to RSS Feeds . . . . . . . . .177
Understanding Podcasting ..........................................................................178
How podcasting works .......................................................................179
How podcasting is being used today ...............................................180
The endless possibilities of podcasting ..........................................181
Receiving a Podcast .....................................................................................183
Finding the reader meant for you .....................................................183
Finding the podcast for you ..............................................................187
Downloading a podcast .....................................................................188
Listening to a Podcast .................................................................................189
Listening on your computer ..............................................................189
Listening on an MP3 player ...............................................................191
Creating a Podcast .......................................................................................192
Creating the audio file yourself .........................................................192
Creating the feed .................................................................................193
Creating audio Web content with a service ....................................195
Finding Out More about Podcasting ..........................................................196
Part IV: Getting the Most Out of RSS Feeds .................199
Chapter 10: Incorporating Best Practices . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .201
Validating All Feeds ......................................................................................201
Supporting the Technology .........................................................................203
Caching your feed ...............................................................................204
Publishing without losing Web-site traffic .......................................205
Providing compelling content ...........................................................205
Just how many people read your feed? ...........................................208
Getting attention .................................................................................209
Signing on, now or later .....................................................................210
Keeping Up to Date on Formats ..................................................................210
Understanding the encoding .............................................................210
Using the format properly .................................................................211
Staying informed .................................................................................212
Staying on Topic ...........................................................................................213
Using the Structure to Your Advantage .....................................................213
Deciding on description length .........................................................214
Deciding how many entries to include ............................................217
Being Timely .................................................................................................218
Chapter 11: Promoting Your Feed . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .219
Registering Your Feed with Directories .....................................................219
Linking to Your Feed ....................................................................................221
Getting Auto-Discovered .............................................................................223
Explaining Just What RSS Is ........................................................................224
Telling Others All about Your Feed ............................................................225
RSS feed links in your e-mail signature ............................................226
Writing articles for other sites ..........................................................226
Touting your feed in discussion groups ..........................................226
Telling everyone you know ...............................................................228
Keeping Your E-mail Newsletter .................................................................228
Branding Your Feed ......................................................................................228
Chapter 12: Placing News Feeds on Your Web Site . . . . . . . . . . . . . .231
Republishing RSS Feeds on Your Site ........................................................231
Choosing a Technology to Convert RSS to a Web Page ...........................234
Using RSS-to-Web-Site Tools ........................................................................234
Web-based services step-by-step .....................................................235
Software tools .....................................................................................240
Part V: The Part of Tens .............................................245
Chapter 13: Ten Best RSS Readers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .247
AmphetaDesk ................................................................................................248
Bloglines ........................................................................................................249
FeedDemon ...................................................................................................250
Feedster .........................................................................................................251
NewsGator .....................................................................................................252
NewzCrawler .................................................................................................253
Plucky Pluck ..................................................................................................254
RssReader ......................................................................................................255
Simple Subscribing with SharpReader ......................................................256
Yahoo! ............................................................................................................257
More and Ever More .....................................................................................258
Chapter 14: Ten Ways to Market Your Web Site . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .259
Optimizing for Search Engines ....................................................................260
Registering Your Site ....................................................................................262
Getting Traffic Statistics ..............................................................................263
Placing Ads ....................................................................................................265
Getting Affiliated ...........................................................................................266
Getting Links to Your Site ............................................................................268
Telling People about Your Site ....................................................................269
Creating an Online Community ..................................................................270
Publishing E-Zines and Blogs ......................................................................271
Writing Articles .............................................................................................272
Chapter 15: Ten Best RSS Resources . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .273
Working with Tutorials ................................................................................274
Understanding Technical Specifications ...................................................275
Using Directories ..........................................................................................275
Reading Articles and Feeds .........................................................................276
Articles .................................................................................................276
RSS feeds on RSS .................................................................................278
Finding Sites with RSS Feeds .......................................................................279
Marketing with RSS ......................................................................................282
Using Feed-Creation Tools ...........................................................................283
Software tools .....................................................................................283
Building your feed online ..................................................................283
Ferreting out feeds from searches ....................................................285
Finding Podcasting Resources ....................................................................287
Using Discussion Groups .............................................................................288
Using Auxiliary RSS Tools ...........................................................................289
Appendix: Setting Up a Web Site ................................291
Getting a URL ................................................................................................291
Finding a Web Host ......................................................................................293
Using free space ..................................................................................295
Paying for power, flexibility, and service .........................................295
Choosing an HTML Editor ...........................................................................296
Getting down to HTML basics ...........................................................298
Creating the Information Architecture ......................................................298
Adding Content .............................................................................................299
Tapping into text .................................................................................300
Visualizing with images ......................................................................300
Let there be links ................................................................................301
Checking it out ....................................................................................301
Selling from Your Site ...................................................................................301
Keeping things simple with PayPal ..................................................301
Pushing shopping carts .....................................................................302
Uploading Your Site ......................................................................................303
Testing Your Site ...........................................................................................304
Index........................................................................305

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