News You Can Use

By Team Digit Published Date
01 - Jul - 2005
| Last Updated
01 - Jul - 2005
News You Can Use
Anything to do with computers and information technology and you'd have multiple formats and their multiple abbreviations. And don't blame the press for this state of affairs. It's the geek ego at play. So we have Really Simple Syndication and Rich Site Summary. We have RSS feeds and Atom Feeds. We have feed burners and then we have feed readers…

Now, if all this is end-user technology, why must an average computer user struggle with all this? What is a news aggregator? How does it function better than just going to the site directly and accessing all your information? Well, as you would have guessed, the questions are no-brainers, and as we proceed through the article, you'll see how much easier and how much more convenient it is to have your own feed reader. Moreover, throughout the article, to maintain a level of uniformity and easy recall, all formats of feeds-whether RSS or Atom-would be referred to as RSS feeds or simply, feeds. Nothing personal against the Atom format, but RSS is a better-known acronym to remember.

Looking Before Leaping
Before we get headlong into the coded world of XML and RSS, we need to tackle a few points that people regularly miss out on-areas such as syndication, uses of a feed, and how setting up a feed increases the number of hits to your site. We have already discussed how to set up your own RSS feed (Tips & Tricks, Digit, June 2005).

The term that actually drives people up the wall, however, is 'Syndication'. Web Syndication is often confused with copyright. Though in some cases, syndication does involve procuring a license from the originator of the story, in many cases these days, syndication on the Web merely means making feeds available from a site so other people can display an updating list of content from it. This originated with news and blog sites, but is increasingly used to syndicate any information.

So how does this update happen? And how does it benefit the end-user? For someone to subscribe to an RSS feed, a few conditions are a must:

First and foremost, the publisher of the content must make the content available in the RSS format. Secondly, the person subscribing to a feed must have a feed reader or 'News Aggregator'. This gets us to the whole point of this article. What in the name of Brin and Page is a news aggregator?

The Boss
Simply put, a really smooth set of code that fits snugly into your Internet browser or desktop is an aggregator. But what exactly does this software do?

In a nutshell, a News Aggregator periodically downloads the latest headlines from your chosen news sources and displays them in one convenient place. It enables you to glance at the latest headlines and gives you the ability to read the full story behind those headlines that interest you. You don't have to go scourging around the Internet nor does your bookmarks list have to flow into hundreds to get the news that interests you!

Best Practice Guidelines For AdSense 
Syndicate the full text of your articles
The more content that is available in a site's feed, the better the user experience, and the more likely people are to subscribe your feed. If you can't put the full text of your articles in your feed, then in addition to the headline of each article, include as informative a snippet as possible of the article's text.

Don't include more than one ad unit per article
Feeds represent an uncluttered, highly targeted medium, and these characteristics should be preserved to maintain and grow an audience. The AdSense for feeds ad format has been designed to be very streamlined to ensure that users are not overwhelmed with advertising.

Place the ad unit at the end of articles
The content of an article is what users are most interested in, and that should be placed first. Then they can read the ad with more context.

Include terms and conditions on the use of your feeds
Just as you have rights associated with the original content you create on your Web site, you also have rights associated with your feed content. If you have concerns about those rights, specify the exact terms and conditions for the use of your feeds somewhere on your site.

News feed readers come as individual software that can be downloaded off the Internet. You also have RSS readers that can be added as extensions to your browser (Only Firefox and Opera as yet) or sites such as Bloglines (registration required) that let you check all your feeds from any Web browser.

So no more unwanted tabs open on your Firefox or Opera, no more waiting for the advertisements to load for just a quick glance through the headlines. What aggregators (and RSS and Atom as a whole) have done is given you the choice to read only the news you want to read. You get to run a quick check on the headlines and pick only the ones that really interest you. What you can also do, is choose the sites or blogs you want to subscribe to. This is truly having your cake and eating it too!

In a way, feed readers are like conditional access for the end user. For example, a technophile (the propah word for a geek, if you may) would find it really handy to subscribe to a technology Web site like and blogs that feature articles on technology such as or Avid market trackers could surf through multiple feeds coming from Wall Street Journal, Reuters Business or other such business information portals. But the real gainers from this technology are journalists and market or industrial research personnel.
Jargon In My Head 
With tonnes of jargons and formats floating around, an average PC is always at sea. So to bust a few technological high bars, here's a brief explanation of concepts and tech fundas.

What is RSS?
It's a dialect of XML. Still puzzled? Read on.
RSS is a format for syndicating news and the content of news-like sites and blogs. The acronym stands for Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary. There is an ongoing dispute between the two camps over the versions RSS 1.0 and RSS 2.0 but then let's not get into that bit.

How do RSS and feed readers work?
RSS files are a type of metadata. Metadata in turn, are units of information commonly used to provide descriptive information about the content, context, and characteristics of data.
An RSS file commonly contains four main types of elements: channel, image, items, and text input. These elements are easy to identify and code. A typical RSS file would read as follows
<title>I Am trying To Understand How A RSS Feed Works
<description>An RSS-aware programme will track changes and….
Now a reader is a simple program that tracks changes in the feed and reacts appropriately. A news aggregator will update the feed as per the changes.

What is a news reader?
A news reader is simply a piece of software that you can use to read your subscribed news feeds.

What is a news feed?
A news feed (also known as an RSS feed) is a listing of a Web site's content. It is updated whenever new content is published to the site. News readers "subscribe" to news feeds by downloading lists of content, blogs, tips, stories etc, and present them to you in your news reader. All news feeds will have a link back to the Web site, so if you see a headline/excerpt/story you like, you can click on the link for that piece of content and will be taken to the Web site that generated the news feed to read it.

What is syndication?
Syndication refers to the process that occurs when a publisher provides content in a form that can be consumed by software (like a news reader).

Who Benefits From This?

For a scribe, an aggregator is like his/her own personal news ticker (the infoRSS extension available for Firefox actually looks and works like a television news ticker, as it scrolls across your taskbar). This ticker saves the journalist a lot of time and the trouble of visiting news sites from across the globe. All that needs to be done is subscribe and read off the feed reader.

With the number of blogs increasing at an alarming rate, market research professionals are turning to them for gathering relevant marketing data. The comments left behind on commonly read blogs give a fair inkling to these guys about public perception of a service or a product. By subscribing to these blogs-most blogs generate feeds as a default setting-and sites, a market research cuts down on the time spent combing for relevant data.

The Habari Xenu Firefox browser integrated news aggregator

How do these tools help Web sites then? Have you ever wondered how Web browsers help Web sites? You see, news aggregators play a very analogous role vis-Ã -vis Web browsers. One lets you surf sites, the other surfs your feeds for you. Both, develop, increase and accentuate traffic towards the portal (could be a site, could be a blog).

But the aggregator ensures point delivery. If I am a content provider on the net, I can take this reasoning of accurate content delivery to an advertiser and then proceed towards my bank… laughing all the way, of course!

As a Web publisher whose content has been subscribed to via the RSS format, I get a clear picture of what sort of content would appeal to people/readers/users. As a feed provider, you can decide whether to put up all your content as the feed or just a summary.

Also, the software ensures if a person finds an interesting piece of news or post on a Web site, he will be directed to the site on clicking the summary. Google has decided to extend their AdSense programme to RSS feeds as well. Now available as a beta, the procedure is similar to setting up a normal AdSense account (see box Best Practice Guidelines For AdSense on previous page).

With the advent of new browsers and technology such as news aggregators, our methods and habits of surfing the Internet will undergo a drastic change. This conditional access will also prompt Web site publishers to come up with innovative approaches to laying out their content. It would also help users decide very quickly what news is the news they can use.

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