Blogging Basics-What is the need of RSS/Atom feeds?
What the heck is it?
RSS, as it turns out was initially Rich Site Summary, a way to deliver web content that changes regularly as the nature of web changed from a predominantly static one to dynamic one over the years. There was a need to keep the contents of a website updated and the users informed. Over the time, Rich Site Summary got transformed into Really Simple Syndication, over the period of time through a number of upgrades and feature additions and improvements.
In the words of Wikipedia …
RSS feeds enable publishers to syndicate data automatically. A standard XML file format ensures compatibility with many different machines/programs. RSS feeds also benefit users who want to receive timely updates from favourite websites or to aggregate data from many sites.
Subscribing to a website RSS removes the need for the user to manually check the website for new content. Instead, their browser constantly monitors the site and informs the user of any updates. The browser can also be commanded to automatically download the new data for the user.
So, fairly speaking RSS/Atom is a way to deliver the contents of your website or blog to the internet, the people, and ofcourse, to what are called feed aggregators and also content scraper sites which essentially take hold of your RSS/Atom feeds, copy the contents and then republish the same in order to be ranked in search engine results (SERP’s), which, in some cases could prove harmful for your own blog/website as such contents might appear to the search engine bots to be duplicate and thus a low ranked site like your blog might get hit in search engine results. Anyhow, delivering your contents over RSS/Atom feeds is a pretty important way to keep your blog readers engaged with your site. You might ask how? This works in a simple way. There are two different parts to this. The Feed needs to be generated to be consumed. This has to be done by specialized software applications that keep a track of changes on your blog/website and do the required work to transform your content rich blogpost into a easily readable and consumable feed. This can be done with the help of applications like Google’s FeedBurner, a free to use application that lets you “Burn the Feeds” out of your blog/website’s contents. This essentially formats the content into a compatible format required for RSS/Atom feeds, and makes it available for users to subscribe to. Now, whenever you make a new blogpost, the feed burning software converts the contents into the required format to make it available in RSS/Atom formats, and updates and informs all the subscribers about the new update.
With this, we now come to the second part of RSS/Atom Feeds, Feed subscription. For a user to be informed about the new updates on your blog/website, a user needs to be subscribed to your blog’s RSS/Atom feeds. This helps the user be informed about the updates on your blog/website without even visiting your site. The user, if he/she wants can read the contents there itself using specialized applications like Feed Readers, a number of which come for a variety of platforms ranging from Desktop to Mobile based applications. Apart from that, a number of these feed burners like Google’s FeedBurner allows users to subscribe to the blog/website, by providing their email addresses, which means that whenever there is an update on the blog/website they subscribed to, the same is sent to them over email. This does have a downside and that is that in such a scenario, if the content is served right to the user, by the means of the application (feed readers), or email, there’s a small possibility that the user might not visit your site for updates. This is however is better than the user forgetting and not visiting your site, isn’t it? There are ways to try and ensure that users come back to your site if the content feels interesting. The blogger can do a small trick and give just a part of the content in the RSS/Atom feeds so that just a small excerpt of the blogpost is delivered over in the RSS feed, and if a user is interested, they will come to your blog/site to check out the post. Though this is not something everyone likes, as who doesn’t like things easily offered to them at their ease?
Proceeding further, we took a series of screenshots to help you burn feeds of your blog for consumption by the public, using Google’s FeedBurner, one of the most widely used FeedBurner services available, mostly because it’s just as good as it could have been and the icing on the cake being FeedBurner being completely free to use. Depending upon your previous blogs and feeds you have already burnt using your Google account, FeedBurner will show you the list of other feeds that it is currently serving once you log in with your Google account on https://feedburner.google.com.
Add a new feed in FeedBurner:
- Just as the screengrab below, you will be presented with the FeedBurner home page once you log in. If you already have feeds added in FeedBurner, you will be displayed the list along with the feed title and the number of subscribers all these feeds have. To add another feed, all you have to do is just enter the address of your blog in the text box provided.
- Once you enter the address of your blog (for which you want to add a new feed) in the text box provided, and hit Next >> you will be taken to a second page to verify the source of the feed to use in order to build a new feed for your blog in FeedBurner. Remember, this source is the one created by your blogging platform by structuring and formatting the dynamic contents of your blog in the format specified for the respective feed format (RSS or Atom) You may choose either of the two.
- The next step verifies the blog address and the feed addresses and now gives you the option to customize a few things like the Title of the Feed and the address at which your blog’s feed will be available on. You can customize both (subject to availability of the address, in case of the feed url).
- You click Next>> and your new blog’s FeedBurner feed is live. You get some additional options to monitor your feed and the statistics associated with your blog’s feeds in the next screen.
- And you are done.
So, finally, getting to the point, Why should I create (burn) an RSS/Atom feed? It may have different uses from perspectives of a user, a visitor and on part of the owner or the person behind the blog/website. For a regular reader/visitor/user/consumer, an subscribing to RSS/Atom feed is like your daily subscription of the newspaper. Everything else can fail but not the Newspaper delivery into your home. Your feedreader makes sure that you don’t miss on to any content, posted anywhere on the web, at any time (of course, if you have subscribed to and since the time you have subscribed to). This works like a newspaper. It collects all the news (content) from everywhere and delivers it to you, every single day, without fail. Which essentially means that you don’t miss out on your favourite stuff, on your favourite website/blog as soon as it gets updated with new content, without even needing you to check it out. As for the Blog/Website owner, it’s a great tool to reach out to the potential reader base. It is obviously easier to send your readers emails as soon as you publish that stunning article you worked on for a good 3 hours, or that long story that you have been writing for the entire last week. Feed burner applications like Google’s FeedBurner manage all of it. All you have to do is to make it available for the visitors to subscribe to your site’s feeds, and they get delivered all of your latest content, over mail, or over an update in their favourite RSS readers.
With this, we believe, we just added a bit to help you blog better. Do let us know of your responses in the comments below.