Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Quality content on the web

For the past three years, I've had a paid subscription to the electronic newsletter Netsurfer Digest. The monthly digest points to substantive articles and websites on a wide range of topics, many, but not all, about high tech. It's well worth the $20 a year.

Today's issue points to an article by TechWeb columnist Mitch Wagner, explaining RSS (rich site summary) technology and why an increasing number of people are using it.

How common are RSS feeds? A few months ago, I'd visit a blog or site and then try to subscribe to it with NetNewsWire Lite (an excellent free desktop-based newsreader for the Mac). But often the site lacked the RSS code necessary to let NetNewsWire track it. Today, I'd say that more than 90 percent of the blogs and sites I visit have installed RSS feeds. (Installing an RSS feed can be as simple as pasting a line of code into your blog template.)

Wagner recommends a Web-based newsreader, Bloglines. Using a Web-based aggregator, instead of a desktop one, makes sense if you use multiple computers (home and work, for instance) but want to be able to keep your RSS reading in sync. He's got me curious enough to take a look and see if Bloglines is Mac-friendly.

By the way, today I spent quite a bit of time at Doug Plummer's blog, thoughtful writing (and stunning images) by a brilliant photographer.


  1. Anonymous8:56 AM

    FYI: The TechWeb URL is badly formatted; takes to http.com, which is a pop-up festooned placeholder site.

    That said, when I finally read the RSS article (and TechWeb remains an example of how to publish *badly* on the Web) I was underwhelmed. I've long said I don't "get" RSS, and people just shake their heads at me. I see the potential utility to publishers, and as a publisher I'll support anything reasonable readers think is helpful. But... I mean, I've *tried* to use RSS feeds and aggregators and associated ware-ola and whatever magic is supposed to be there eludes me. Feeds are generally useless and awful - sometimes even worse than the sites which produce them! RSS aggregators - even the vaunted NetNewsWire - just don't do anything for me. I can't imagine why someone would use one. They're so... kludgey, inefficient, actively isolate users from publishers, and focus in distancing people from information more than anything else. (And from what I can determine, the "add one line to your blog" method of producing an RSS feed is a pretty sure way to get a bad RSS feed.)

    Fundamentally I guess that's my problem with RSS: it's just one more haze of smoke between me and what I actually want.

    Oh, and where's your RSS feed, O Mysterious Traveller? Atom ain't the same thing. ;-)


  2. Anonymous (gd)--
    Thank you for pointing out the badly formatted URL; I believe I've got it fixed now. So, what's the problem with using Atom instead of RSS? NetNewsWire and other aggregators recognize both, and people are able to successfully subscribe to my blog--why would I be using RSS instead?

  3. Anonymous11:22 AM

    Link looks good now. ;-)

    My NetNewsWire (Lite?) turned up its Aqua-colored nose at the Atom feed. It just says "Untitled Source" and doesn't pull anything in. Next time I don't need to do anything important like work, I'll try to boot into Mac OS X to take a look.

    Oh: well, here's a problem: if I try to load


    I get an XHTML document saying "404: File not found." Perhaps Blogger is doing some sniffing or something; it also sends a 404 Not Found to my homegrown RSS parser. Or, you know, it could be that this whole site syndication technology thing just has it in for me! It's getting pretty mutual: hate breeds hate, chicken and egg, etc., etc.

    Short answer re: Atom vs. RSS is that they're separate standards, the development of which seems largely to have been born out of personal politics. (There are at least 7 active versions of RSS.) Most tools do not seem to support Atom (yet?), and so far as I can tell, RSS 1.0 (not 2.0!) is "nearer" a real standards track than Atom, but it's a tough call - neither format strikes me as being much above the level of "Dude! Pull my finger." I'm not yet well-versed enough on this stuff to speculate much further. From a "standards" perspective it's a fingerpointing, backstabbing mess.

  4. Dear Anonymous (gd),
    Mucking around with all the beta software is not for the fastidious. But I haven't had so much fun since the early days of pre-GUI online communication! Blogger works better with Firefox than with Safari, so I've gotten to play around with a new browser. Last night I exported my NetNewsWire Lite subscriptions (they let you do it flat, or grouped, which I appreciated) into Bloglines. I don't like the interface as much as NNW but since I use multiple computers, Bloglines makes more sense. Bloglines promises it will make it easy for me to set up blogrolling on my blog. We'll see. Watch this space.