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rss

Page history last edited by april.edmonds@myfwc.com 11 years ago

 

RSS Feeds

What It Is

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication (among other things). It is a web content format which, when used with an RSS aggregator, can allow you to alert users to new or exciting content on your website. These news feeds enable users to avoid the conventional methods of browsing or searching for information on websites. Now the content they want is delivered directly to them.

RSS feeds are commonly used on weblogs (blogs), news web sites and other places with frequently updated content. Once users subscribe to an RSS feed, they can gather material from web sites of their choosing. It’s a very convenient format because it allows users to view all the new content from multiple sources in one location on their desktop.

RSS is written in the Internet coding language known as XML, which is why you see RSS buttons labeled that way, commonly with this icon: RSS Image

Why It’s Important

  • Web users are finding RSS (along with podcasts) to be a very efficient method for keeping up with current news that interests them.
  • RSS saves users from having to repeatedly visit favorite websites to check for new content or be notified of updates via email. Instead, article summaries are delivered directly to them. They can choose to visit the websites when the RSS feeds contain summaries that look interesting.
  • It is now very common to find RSS feeds on most major web sites, as well as many smaller ones.
  • According to a January 2005 Pew Internet & American Life report (PDF), 5% of internet users say they use RSS aggregators or XML readers to get news and other time-sensitive information. An October 2005 Yahoo/Ipsos study (PDF) reported that 12% of internet users are aware of RSS and 27% consume RSS syndicated content without knowing it via personalized home pages (e.g. My Yahoo!) Although this is a relatively small number of users, it is expected to grow. And people who subscribe to RSS are usually frequent and loyal website visitors.
  • More and more government agencies are using RSS to increase awareness of government information.
  • Adopting new communication channels leads to better communication with the public.
  • RSS can allow government agencies to more easily track updates to each other’s content. This offers potential for increased collaboration and information sharing between agencies that could reduce duplication and inconsistencies across government websites.
  • The process for developing an RSS feed is relatively simple and inexpensive.

As you can see, there are many benefits to using RSS feeds. However, as with other technology, you need to offer alternative means to view the material if the technology is not widely available or accessible.

Specific Policy, Legal or Other Requirements for Doing This

There are no specific requirements for government agencies to use RSS. It’s an emerging technology that agencies can consider as an alternative way to quickly deliver news and information.

How to Implement

Creating an RSS feed is not very difficult. It’s simply a text file written in a special XML format that you place on your website. Visitors will then add the URL of the XML file to their aggregation software. Once added, the user’s software will notify them whenever you update the feed.

You’ll need some specialized software before you get started. Here are the steps to place an RSS feed on your website:

  • Determine the content:

    First, you need to figure out what type of content will be most effective and relevant to your audience via an RSS feed. Content that is updated fairly frequently (e.g., weekly) is best suited for RSS Feeds. When selecting content, keep in mind that RSS users will download the latest RSS entry every time the content is updated.

  • Generate the RSS feed:

    There are several ways to create RSS feeds in the necessary XML format. The easiest way is to have a content management system (CMS) generate the RSS feed in XML. Using a CMS will ensure that the feed is updated whenever the relevant content is changed. If you don’t have a CMS, there are tools you can download that will help you create the XML code, or you can create the code yourself in any text editor.

    Below is an example of a very basic RSS feed, written in XML. There are many more optional elements that you can add. Read a complete description of the different elements contained in RSS feeds and how you can customize your RSS feeds with additional features.

    Example of RSS code:

    <?xml version="1.0" encoding="iso-8859-1"?>

    <rss version="2.0">

    <channel>

    <title>Title for your rss feed</title>

    <description>Description of the rss feed</description>

    <link>Your homepage URL</link>

    <language>en-us</language>

    <copyright>Copyright 2004</copyright>

    <pubDate>Fri, 31 Dec 2004 21:00:00 EST</pubDate>

    <webMaster>

    e-mail address of person responsible for the feed

    </webMaster>

    <item>

    <title>Item title</title>

    <link>URL for more information about the item</link>

    <description>Description of item</description>

    <pubDate>Fri, 31 Dec 2004 21:00:00 EST</pubDate>

    </item>

    <item>

    <title>Item 2 title</title>

    <link>URL for more information</link>

    <description>Description of item 2</description>

    <pubDate>Fri, 31 Dec 2004 20:00:00 EST</pubDate>

    </item>

    </channel>

    </rss>

    The above feed’s content is designed to describe the content of each element. The only thing of specific note is the format for the <pubDate> element. This element shows when the channel or item was published. The date should be expressed in the following format: day_of_week, day_of_month three_letter_month_abbreviation year hour:minute:seconds timezone.

     

  • Including Images in an RSS Feed

    Using a CDATA section in the description tag works very well if you would like to add individual images to your RSS feeds.

    The USGS Shakemaps RSS feed is a great example of including a small image in the description. NOAA also includes a small image in a few of its RSS feeds. One example is the storm tide hurricane feed that includes a small thumbnail image (116 X 150). Here is one example of the storm tide feed:

    <?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8" ?>

    <rss version="2.0">

    <channel>

    <title>QUICKLOOK RSS</title>

    <link>http://tidesonline.noaa.gov/quicklook</link>

    <description>NOS/CO-OPS Storm QUICKLOOKs</description>

    <language>en-us</language>

    <pubDate>Tue, 14 Aug 2007 14:30:55 GMT</pubDate>

    <webMaster>Robert.Aspinall@noaa.gov</webMaster>

    <generator>QUICKLOOK module quicklook_rss</generator>

    <item>

    <title>Hurricane TEST 07/19/2007 1130 EDT</title>

    <link>http://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/quicklook/data/TEST.html</link>

    <description>

    <![CDATA[

    <IMG HEIGHT="116" WIDTH="150"

    src="http://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/cgi-bin/quicklook_rss.cgi?thumbnail=Hurricane_

    TEST_ 07-19-2007_1130_EDT"

    STYLE="float: left;"/>

    <BR/>QUICKLOOK Alert - Hurricane TEST 07/19/2007 1130 EDT - click to enlarge]]>

    </description>

    <guid isPermaLink="false">TEST71920071130</guid>

    <pubDate>Thu, 19 Jul 2007 11:30:00 GMT</pubDate>

    </item>

    </channel>

    </rss>

  • Assign a Well-Recognized URL: There’s not yet a standard URL naming convention for RSS pages. However, many sites use “agencyname.gov/rss”.

    The benefit of using standard URLs and common terminology is that it helps the public find information and services across government and other websites.

  • Post the RSS feed on your website . Most agencies that have developed RSS feeds link to them from their homepage. If you have multiple RSS feeds on your website, you should compile them on one central page and link to that from your homepage.
  • Use Common Display for Linking: The most common way of indicating links to RSS feeds is to use this icon: RSS Image

What an RSS Feed Looks Like to Users

Below is how the RSS feed (mentioned in #2) will look like to a person who has downloaded RSS software on their computer. The RSS Owl software program is shown here as an example only. This is very similar to how most RSS aggregators display feeds.

 

RSS feeds are typically organized by topic, similar to how files or email messages are categorized on people’s computers. When a user clicks an item title, the item’s description and link is displayed (similar to clicking an e-mail subject in an e-mail program). If a user is interested in the item after reading the description, they can click the link to take them to the corresponding web page.

 

Screenshot of an RSS reader

 

Examples of Agencies that Have Implemented RSS Feeds

  • USA.gov Library of Government RSS Feeds – USA.gov has compiled a list of government agencies who offer RSS feeds, which is updated regularly. So check out what how other agencies are doing. The list also gives the public a central place where they can find the ever increasing number of government RSS feeds, without having to search through thousands of individual agency websites.

Resources

(See our disclaimer for non-government links)

 

Page Updated or Reviewed: January 7, 2009

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