Blogs, web feeds and the open web

As I already published before (twice), I’m a big supporter of an “ancient” and practically dead technology, at least as many like to call it, that still can be found in the Internet. It is the RSS, a very useful standard that is one of the foundations for publishing content to the Web in a open way (the way it initially was supposed to).

Today and following a recent blog post of Seth Godin, about reading more blogs and teaching a way to easily get their new content, I want to get back to the subject and address a few thoughts I have on the matter. Without publicizing a single solution, I want to explore and extend a few points made in that article.

First, I want to start with a basic explanation of how it works, at least for the user. The basic idea is that content creators, being professionals or hobbyists, along side with the content displayed on their website, also publish some structured file that is not supposed to be read by humans, with information about that content (and sometimes with parts of that content). The usefulness of these files, is that other entities can watch them and get a linear view of what was published over time. This way people that want to follow or consume that content can use cool little apps, that track their favorite authors and let them know when there is new stuff, along site with other features, such as keeping track of what you already read.

RSS
RSS Logo

If you check for the icon shown above, you will find it in many websites, this is hugely used in many areas from newspapers to blogs, from postcasts to itunes, etc.

Overall It is used broadly and it lets people do cool things with it, however (this is where I start to converge on the topic of Seth’s post) most big players don’t have an interest in an open web and slowly, over time, they started dropping support for it and undermining its usefulness, because they want people to publish and consume content only inside their platform, locking everyone’s content to their services. Two examples are given, Google and Facebook, but I’m sure there are others.

There are many benefits of following your favorite authors using these feeds, such as:

  • You control the content that you read. Lets face it, letting any middleman manipulate what kind of information you have access to is never a good thing, and it is not uncommon.
  • You are not stuck with a single interface where the content is lost overtime. You can choose your app and organize the content your own way.
  • Clear distinction of what you already read and what you didn’t.
  • Even if the content gets taken down, you might have your own copy. There is no risk of a service going out of business and everybody losing all they content.

One thing I’ve been seeing more often, is many people writing such nice content but their blog or platform does not expose RSS feeds (like this one). This saddens me because I do not remember every good source, if I can’t add it to my feed reader, I will often forget to check for new content. It is relatively easy to add it, most systems support it, and if it is a custom one there are plenty of libraries available to help you with that.

I comprehend the need to make the person visit the site in order to monetize the content, in these cases there is always the option to only add to the feed the title and a small excerpt, the reader will follow the link to reach the remaining of the content.

About the author

Gonçalo Valério

Software developer and owner of this blog. More in the "about" page.

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