Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Introducing the OutlookPower RSS feeds

INSIDE RSS

By David Gewirtz

By now, you've probably noticed the little RSS icons that appeared all over OutlookPower in the past week or so. A larger version of the icon is shown in Figure A.

FIGURE A

Here's a big version of our little RSS icon.

RSS, which means Really Simple Syndication, is a format that is rapidly changing how people get timely information on the Internet. If you're like us, you need to visit and read many Web sites on a regular basis. This is pretty obvious, since you're reading OutlookPower right now.

The problem is, how do you keep up? How do you get all the latest information from all the sites you might want to visit? RSS may well be the solution.

By "subscribing" to an RSS feed, like that from OutlookPower, you're able to see when a site's got updated information, and you can read that updated information from one program, at one time.

Bits of history

To be fair, all of the ZATZ publications have had RSS feeds since 1998. In fact, when we first published our original RSS feeds, we were the first publishing company to do so across all publications. However, back in 1998, RSS feeds were very primitive, usually containing just headlines. The feeds were used primarily by Web site developers to include our headlines on their Web sites.

Technically, those feeds were in RSS 0.91 format. However, since 1998, RSS has grown up. Weblogs, RSS readers, aggregators, and an entire industry has adopted a more extensive version of RSS, known as RSS 2.0. This version, at a minimum, supports a lot more text, making it possible to really derive value reading "feeds" from within, well, RSS feed readers.

This week, we finished updating our sites to provide RSS 2.0 feeds. We also finished building an entire feed management infrastructure that will allow us to add a lot more feeds in places where they make the most sense. Our next bit of development will be to provide a feed for each author, so if there's a particular writer you always want to read, you can subscribe to his or her feed.

What's an RSS feed?

An RSS feed is, fundamentally, a text file located on a server that contains formatted information your RSS reader can understand. It's a very simple format, but it contains a lot of valuable information.

To you, as a reader of RSS feeds, an RSS feed is simply another URL. Rather than pasting it into the address bar of your browser, you paste it into the subscribe field of your feed reader.

This is OutlookPower's main feed:

http://www.OutlookPower.com/feeds/newsDetails/rss20/feed.xml

If you click on that URL, you'll get a pile of XML code displayed on your screen.

Now, let's get back to the little orange RSS icon you're seeing all through the magazine. That's the actual feed. If you right-click and copy the URL, you'll paste that into your feed reader. Strangely, many RSS feeds are most often indicated by an XML icon, which describes the format of the feed. You'll find feeds sometimes represented just by the word RSS and other times with icons including the RSS icon above, an XML icon, or other images. In all cases, though, you're going to want to grab the RSS URL and paste it into your newsreader.