Web syndication: on RSS, Atom, Kings and Queens
Posted by the markITeer on May 29, 2007
Why do people visit a website? What makes them return? What makes them talk about your website? Or link to it?
Relevant content is the number one treasure on the web everybody is looking for. Yes, the old saying still goes : “content is King”. And now the King got himself some nice looking Queens: meet RSS and Atom.
But first a couple of words on web syndication in general. Web syndication means that you offer your most recent content (“What? My precious content?”), preferably for free (“WHAT?!”) to the web community for them to incorporate into their websites or to read via special readers. Of course, you will only offer content that is not sensitive. And you’ll probably just give them a title, a brief summary and a link to the full article… on your website (” Ahhh! 🙂 “). In other words: you use your content as some sort of advertising to drive traffic to your website.
The technology used to achieve this is plane old XML: on your website you offer your (stripped-down) content in XML format. This is called a feed. Typically, you would make it accessible from one of the well-known logo’s, like or , of which the second one lately is becoming more and more wide-spread (see also http://feedicons.com/). Anyone can then embed this feed in his own website (like I did with the LUON blog on the right), or add it to his feed reader (or ‘feed aggregator’), an application used to easily view and follow feeds from different websites (did you already check out Google reader!?). This is also referred to as ‘subscribing‘ to a feed. Take note that because your feed only contains your content without layout, the subscriber can present it in any layout he wants!
The XML you offer must follow a couple of rules. You must use predefined tags and structures (ie an XML schema) to describe your content, so that everybody can ‘understand’ what you’re talking about: what the title is, what the summary is etc.
There are currently two ‘standards’ around : RSS (Really Simple Syndication) and Atom (in walk the Queens). Both are in fact XML schema’s describing how you could structure your XML and which tags you could use to offer your content as a feed. RSS uses ‘item’ to describe an article, Atom uses ‘entry’. RSS uses a ‘description’ tag for the summary, Atom uses a ‘summary’ tag. And so on, and so on. For a detailed comparison between the two, read Tim Bray’s comparison piece. That’s why you often see two icons : one for RSS, and one for Atom.
Finally: take a look at this fun video introduction to RSS posted on YouTube: