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August 9, 2006
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What Is This RSS, XML, RDF, and Atom Business?
And how they impact the newsletter biz
by Meryl K.
Evans, Editor, eNewsletter Journal
It's been a long day at work and you're in no mood to cook dinner or go out.
Time to count on the reliable pizza delivery guy. The order is called in and he
promptly arrives with smokin' hot pizza within 30 minutes as promised. If it
were only that easy with a picky family where no one can agree on the same
restaurant for dinner. One wants Mexican, another wants Chinese, and another
wants a burger and Mexican. Instead of running to three different places, you
call a delivery service that goes to all of them and brings it to you. What
could be easier in getting a meal without cooking it or fetching it?
RSS, XML, RDF, and Atom are the food delivery guy of the Internet. The
content they deliver is mixed and cooked elsewhere on the Internet just like the
meal isn't made on your door step and the acronym fellows bring the content to
you via software or an online application. Instead of trying to remember all the
places where you like to go to get the latest news, it all comes to you once you
order your food.
What to Do with the Funky Code
Click on any of those orange or blue RSS, XML, or RDF buttons and you see
unreadable text. Some of it is readable, but reading between the <tags> is slow
and difficult. In this case, you've got the raw ingredients of the content known
as a feed. To make it easily readable, download a feed reader that can interpret
(aggregate) the ingredients or sign up for an online service that can do the
When the software or application is ready to go, click on the orange or blue
button (or "Syndicate This Page," or whatever is along these lines) and copy the
resulting URL from the address box. Paste it into the application to cook the
ingredients where it's delivered to you ready for your enjoyment.
offers step-by-step instructions to making this happen.
Syndication Isn't Just for Blogs
Syndication is a not a new concept on the Internet, but itís growing in
popularity as more Web sites and newsletters are churning content to turn it
into syndicated files, which are fed into an aggregator. Think of it as the
content that's ready to travel anywhere it needs to go. Grab the feed and feed
it to the aggregator, another way of bookmarking (or creating a favorite) a site
because you wish to come back again another time. But how often did you go back
to the site through your bookmarks / favorites?
I don't use bookmarks often, but I regularly use the aggregator. Instead of
schlepping from site to site in search of information, I have it all in front of
me via the aggregator. The feeds are sorted in folders by topic for easy
finding. If I'm writing about the latest virus or worm, then I open the security
folder with the security-related feeds and scan them. Scanning content through
aggregators is easier than on a Web site because it's in one folder with
headlines and maybe a short summary. On a Web site, you're only getting the
benefit of that site's news and no where else. The folder has news from over ten
resources including blogs, news sites, and newsletters.
Any content can be syndicated. It's a matter of having the backend process in
place, which is dependent on the application used for managing the content. If a
site doesn't have such resources, then there is software for entering content to
create a file with the feed for posting on the site.
Most aggregators have exporting capabilities so the feed can be shared with
others interested in the same topic. If you're interested in my security feeds,
I can export them into, in most cases, an OPML file and you can import it into
So What Does This Have to Do with Newsletters?
Spam filters are preventing readers from getting newsletters or they get lost
in the spam pool. Offering a feed for the newsletter is a compromise. Readers
can get the content, only instead of it coming to the email box, it comes
through the aggregator. It's a way around spam. Like everything else, it has its
advantages and disadvantages:
Filters can't stop the newsletter from reaching its destination.
The recipient will get it - if the server is down, it'll download next
time and email can get lost.
The feed can be syndicated providing more exposure for your content.
and there are online aggregators like
which can be your home page.
Metrics won't be as complete, but it's still there through the links.
Not as pretty as HTML-based newsletters.
If the feed is automatically created,
what have you got to lose? You're providing another way for your readers to get
your content just like you can get pizza in different ways: go to the
restaurant, have it delivered, or make it at home. More applications are adding
syndication capabilities, which make the process effortless. Some have said they
wonít read something unless it has a feed.
As for looks, already I've seen an
example of a feed getting styled and that capability will be available for
everyone soon enough.
Syndication works better than
bookmarks. With bookmarks, you click on a site that might have the security
information and arrive there to find it doesn't. So, back to the bookmarks to
click on another site. Lather, rinse, repeat. With aggregators, there is no
jumping from site to site. Scan the headlines right there until you find what
Chris Pirillo of
has authored a book called
Poor Richardís E-mail Publishing
and has been sending out email newsletters since the mid-Ď90s. He has been
pushing for RSS while continuing to offer email newsletters as he says, "Offer
as many cost-effective options as possible. It's not going to hurt."
There was a time when we didn't have
the option to have pizza delivered to our doorstep. When we're too tired, we
know we can rely on the delivery guy. In term of content, expect to see it show
up at your doorstep more often than the pizza guy plus it's cheaper with the
cost only coming from the software though there are many free options available.
Syndication is here to stay and should be added to a companyís communication
toolbox rather than as a replacement. Witness it by watching for RSS, XML, RDF,
and Atom out there.
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