Sunday, March 26, 2006

Blogging 201

You might notice a few new items in the sidebar of this blog. Or you might not, because you aren't very observant. If that's the case, take a quick look.

First, I've made all of my previous blog posts accessible by title, so you don't have to go hunting through dates to find the info you're looking for.

Next, I've made it easier for people to subscribe to RSS feeds.

What's an RSS feed?

I'm glad you asked, because I only had an inkling of what they were until a few days ago. Fellow scribe Alphabeter patiently explained the whole RSS/XML/Atom business to me, and I found her so witty and informative that I asked if I could share her info with my readers.

So if you're looking to boost your blog traffic up to the next level, print out a copy of this guest blog entry, and then stop by Alphabeter's Blog to thank her in person--er, in cyberspace.

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The "I don't want to look like an idiot" guide to Internet Syndication
by Alphabeter


If you are reading this, I am guessing you know how to read. But do you know how to use a Reader?

Let me throw a lot of terms at you. RSS. Atom. XML. Blogroll. Simple.

That last one hopefully caught your eye. I am going to try and explain how to get and read your favorite blogs, syndicated articles, and comics simply.

Feed Me Seymour

Firstly, the blog entry, article or comic sent out is called a feed. There are different kinds of feeds-Atom and RSS. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. RSS is based on XML, a standard for exchanging textual information between applications on the Internet. The current RSS is 2.0.

Because of opinions regarding the over-restrictions in 1.0 and the loose gaps in 2.0, several programmers branched off and created Atom. My personal preference is for Atom as it is easier to customize once you know what you want to do. Many blogs and websites only offer one kind of feed--for example, Blogspot only offers a full entry Atom.

What does that mean? With both Atom and RSS, there are several levels of feeds. They include: full entry, full entry with comments, excerpt, comments only, and index. Full entry is the entire blog post, article or item. Comments are the messages people add after the item is posted. Excerpt is an abbreviated entry. It can be the title and first few lines or an shortened entry specifically written for feed distribution. However, nearly every Reader can receive all the various feeds.

Read Me all night long

Now the Reader itself. If you want to collect and read feeds, there are many choices available depending on your computer's operating system. I use both Macintoshes and PCs, so I am going to try and be fair in covering all platforms. Whether you use Linux, Mac OS X, Windows 98, 2000, ME or XP (home or pro), there is a Reader for you. The main options are: a separate program, a browser build-in, or through a website. The laptop I am writing this on is a Gateway with a pentium 3 processor running Windows 98SE. I use Firefox 1.6 and a website Reader.

Separate programs

There are many desktop applications for Linux, Windows and Mac OS system users. Some are free and some charge for privilege.

Two quality free ones are RSSOwl (Mac OS X and Linux-Open Source) and Twins Web News (Windows; works like email client). Both require a few MG of installation space and must be running to update new feeds, but in my experience neither seems to have compatibility problems with the AVG, Semantic/Norton and/or Zone Alarm security programs.

Two that charge for what they claim is quicker access to popular feeds, special premium feeds and features are FeedDemon (Windows) and NetNewsWire (Mac OS X). Both have a small purchase price but dozens of feeds pre-loaded so you can explore the syndication "universe" right away.

Not all of these programs work on every variation of Windows and Linux. And the Mac ones often only work on OS X and up. Note the download requirements BEFORE installation!

Browser build-ins

These are extensions that can be added to the program you use to view websites to enable Reading within your browser like a webpage.

Firefox 1.0 and up (Windows and Linux) has several variations.

Internet Explorer 6 does not have this option. However, IE 7 Beta build has this ability.

Opera (Linux, Windows, Mac OS X) has varying abilities depending upon the platform.

Using a website to read feeds.

On my blog, I have a list of writing-related blogs I read daily or whenever they have new entries. It also includes a rolling blogroll javascript. Anyone can just go to my blog and click from there.

Another option is a website that is the Reader. This is called an aggregator. I personally use Bloglines. I give my email address, create a password and I can access it from any computer in the world with internet access. I can add any feed publicly available. On average I receive over 300 feeds a day. (Its addictive!)

Using Firefox, I can open entries in new tabs and bookmark items I want to save. IE will open in new windows, but can also save favorites for as long as they are on the web. For LiveJournal and other blogs with locked entries however, I need to go to their sites, enter my password, and read the entries there. Fortunately with del.icio.us (an online bookmark site) and Firefox, I can open these all in one window through tabbing.

Other aggregators include: NewsGator and My Yahoo.

Syndicating Your blog

How can you publish your own RSS Feed?

If you have a website or weblog, you can add RSS syndication as a publishing option. Some companies do this automatically. This depends entirely on how your site is served today. If you are using a hosted publishing tool like TypePad or Blogger, you probably already publish a feed. [http://yourblogname.blogger.com/atom.xml] is the standard feed URL for blogs hosted on Blogspot/Blogger. It can be turned on or off in the dashboard control panel by the blog owner.

Investigate whether your provider's administration tools offer feed-related options or controls. Other types of websites and application platforms may require some programming skills in order to add RSS syndication capabilities. WordPress offers a free, multi-platform interface.

Once you have a feed established, you need to get it 'out there'. I joined several aggregators which added my feed to their directories. I also place their buttons on my blog so people finding it can easily add it to their Reader of choice. Google (You must have a google account), Pluck's Feed Finder and Syndic8 are just a few of them.

I hope this provides a simple overview of the basics. If you have any questions, comments or just want to send me your unpublished manuscript for a fee (KIDDING!!), feel free to drop by my blog anytime. I reserve the right to publish all dirty emails.

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Thanks to Alphabeter for the info. Questions welcome.

And since we're on the topic of blogs and links, if you want to trade links, email me. If you already link to me and I haven't returned the favor, or if I promised to link to you and then forgot, let me know.