Part of the
You Can Learn C# series.
By Ken Brown
Updated: November 24, 2004
Over a year and a half ago, I
attended a Chicago .Net Users Group meeting in Downers Grove, Illinois. The
discussion topic for the meeting was RSS feeds.
I must admit I was only listening partially, because I didn't think I needed or
wanted an RSS feed. I definitely didn't know what they were and after the
discussion I thought they were hard to implement. Quite frankly, I was wrong on
What is an RSS feed? I have read many different words for the acronym,
but for now let's go with Really Simple Syndication. Those big words alone make
you feel like this process isn't for the little guy. But, despite the word
syndication, you can start today to add an RSS feed to your web site, no matter
how big or small your site.
An RSS feed is nothing more than an XML file that contains information about
your web site. You can change the information on a regular basis and people who
subscribe to your RSS feed will be notified of the change and will go to your
site to get more information.
RSS is pull technology instead of push technology. What does that mean?
When you send a newsletter to someone you are pushing that newsletter into
their email account. Even if they have subscribed to your newsletter they may
not really want it. But you still push it to them every week or so. Pull
technology, means that your subscriber goes and gets the information when they
want it. The subscriber has to make an effort to ask for your new content.
At first you might think nobody will ever ask for new content from you. But it
isn't that difficult. See there are RSS readers available for free. These
readers use a timer and every time the timer goes off, the RSS reader will
check to see which sites the user subscribes to. Then they go and get the
information from those sites and present the information in an easy to read
Your RSS subscriber now has a synopsis of your new content. If they find the
synopsis interesting, then the next step is to click on the link provided to
take them to your website where they can read the entire article or get new
It is very similar to sitting down in a doctor's office and picking up a
magazine. The first thing most people do is read the cover to see if there are
any interesting articles. Then they find the page number of the article and go
and read the article.
I already have a newsletter, why bother with an RSS feed?
You might say, "That is the same thing my newsletter does. I already have a
newsletter, why bother with an RSS feed?" Because some people, a lot of people
actually, don't want you to have their email address. I read an article
in November 2004 that said the impact of newsletters is diminishing.
Just because you have an RSS feed doesn't mean you get rid of your newsletter.
Just because you have a newsletter, you don't eliminate your RSS feed. They
should work together to drive more traffic of interested users and potential
"But you used the term XML, I started to learn that and it didn't make sense to
me so I just gave up on it." Wait, didn't I say it was easy? Yes. Easy. Just
follow these easy steps.
First, I have created an RSS
feed XML file that contains everything you need to make it an RSS feed.
When you click on the link your browser will format the xml into a human
readable format. I am assuming you currently are not running an RSS feed
reader, otherwise you just subscribed to this RSS feed.
The XML starts out with <rss version="2.0">. This tells the RSS
readers how to interpret what follows by giving the reader the rss version to
be read. The next element is the <channel>. This begins the
portion to be interpreted. The first portion will describe the title, homepage
link, the language and the last build date. It is pretty easy to identify those
aspects. The language is standard language info and the "en-us" represents an
English speaking country with a United States dialect.
The <lastbuilddate> tells the readers when you last added new
content. This way the reader can choose to stop at this point if you haven't
added anything new to your RSS feed.
The next element is the <item> element. You see that the item
element is repeated multiple times with a beginning tag and an ending tag for
each repeat. The item tags wrap around each tidbit of new information you want
to share with your readers. Within each item tag can be found a title tag, link
and description tags.
The title tag will contain a brief title of what this new content contains.
Make it an eye grabbing headline that will draw your readers to click on the
link tag to take them to the page that contains this content.
The description tag allows you more room to sell your article to the potential
reader. Like a good news story or mystery novel, use this paragraph to grab the
readers attention and make them yearn to finish the article. Normally this can
be the first paragraph of an article or maybe spice it up with just enough
information to tease but not enough to say, I already know this.
Isn't your newsletter similar to this already? You mention the new articles on
your web site and then sell the articles with a little blurb explaining what
the article is about and how it will help the reader solve a problem, save
money or help them create something new.
Then complete the RSS feed with a closing channel tag and a closing rss tag and
you're done. Yes it really is that easy. Put an image button on your web page
and link it with the rss feed XML file and you are finished.
So to start your own RSS feed, do a CTRL-A on the xml file. Then do a CTRl-C
and then open notepad or your favorite XML editor tool. CTRL-V pastes the XML
into your XML editor. Get rid of the leading "-" (dashes). Then change the
important info to reflect what is important on your site. Be sure to remember
to change the last build date. Save the file as "RSSFEED.XML" and you're ready
Provide a link to this file either as an image button or a link and put it on
your website. Now, you are ready to allow your customers to pull information
down from your site when they want it with your very own RSS feed.