Whatever you call it – really simple syndication, RSS, newsfeeds or just plain old “feeds” – RSS has changed the face of the Web by un-coupling content from its original website and letting it roam freely across your browser.
The Benefits of RSS
When Web content isn’t trapped inside a specific Web site, it can be consumed just about anywhere. Many elect to use news aggregation services like Google News. But if you are into online organizing, you also want to leverage getting your content used freely in other websites so you can get as many eyeballs on it as possible. That makes marketing and sharing Web content a whole new ballgame.
In a post about 10 Essential Social Media Tools for the Office, I pointed to a great summary “ode to RSS” by a well-known tech blogger to highlight the benefits of hopping on the RSS bandwagon:
“A wonderful (if dated rant) by one of the Blogospheres most prolific consumers of Tech Blogs – Scobleizer – written in 2004 identifies the benefits of using Really Simple Syndication services to consume your online news makes sense: makes you more productive by serving up only the new stuff, no more wasted browser loading time, no advertising clutter and easier reading in same font.”
“But My Site Isn’t Built in XML!”
So you may be sold on the benefits of RSS, but the hurdle to making it happen is not desire but technical know-how.
What happens if you are in charge of a Web site that is not built in the XML format – the essential program language to enable an RSS to work? Is your only option to ditch the old format and painfully migrate content over? Just thinking about the broken links from URL extensions that end in something other than xml (like .htm, .html, .asp, .php) leaves my head hurting. That was my situation with my corporate site when I walked into a Netroots camp session led by online organizer extraordinaire Michael Whitney.
Along with a band of other RSS wanna-bes, we huddled in a room with Michael as he explained how to “hack” an RSS feed without going through the pain of building an XML site.
Use Delicious Bookmarks as an RSS Work-Around
The secret is leveraging the Delicious Bookmark service.
You see, Delicious lets you save and “tag” bookmarks from all over the Web on the fly, labeling them with names and keywords that are meaningful to you so you can go back and find the content later. What’s more, Delicious lets you save things online, so they are not trapped on your desktop and can be shared with others. When you save a bookmark to a Delicious account, you can title the content anyway you please and add up to 1000 characters and give it as many tags as you please.
And here’s the bonus: each and every tag you create becomes its own separate Web page that is automatically an RSS feed! That’s right, automatic RSS-feed ready page, with no special coding required.
As I wrote in I Heart Widgets this little trick helped me create an RSS feed of my articles on my html corporate site. All I had to do was create a tag – I selected “buzz” the name of my newsletter – and then save each article into that tag in my Delicious bookmarks. I added a paragraph or two summarizing the article to beef it up, and my newsletter was suddenly and magically recreated as an RSS feed. You can see what I did by checking out http://delicious.com/KMcShea/buzz
Some Extra Steps
There are a few extra steps you can take to package up your RSS feed to make it easier to consume and manage for you and your readers alike.
First, get a feedburner account from Google. This will let you enjoy some cool services, including a terrific graphic user interface when you sign up for a feed that’s very browser friendly, good analytics to measure your success, and even a way to let your subscribers sign up for an email when the feed is updated.
The other thing you should do involves a wee bit of coding on your html or non-xml site. If you want the RSS icon to be in the browser search bar automatically, which I’m convinced is where most people find it, you need to add a few lines of easy code to the header tag of your template and/or Web pages. This tutorial on RSS Auto-Discovery explains what code to use and how to implement it.
I think RSS Feeds are a game-changer for Web sites. Imagine a world where you created a feed, hacking one with Delicious if you needed to, and then started some old-fashioned marketing with affiliate Web site owners. Tell them you can bring them up-to-date news on a topic they care about, and to serve their readers all they have to do is “set it and forget it” with this little RSS feed.
Website owners also love RSS feeds because it builds instant traffic incredibly quickly when implemented and marketed well. When I got to visit the Fox News offices in NYC a couple years ago, their Web people for their business site were chirping about how using syndication (another word for RSS feeds) had helped them easily lap their CNBC competitor in just a few months in traffic visiting their site.
With these tips and tricks on how to get an RSS feed stood up without any XML coding, your excuses are over. It’s time to get on the RSS bandwagon.