A cry for help from the RSS zealots

Every couple of weeks somebody tells me I ought to create an RSS feed. I respond with “what would you use it for?” The reply is “well, it’d be cool to get Schlock in an aggregator.”

Fine. Show me an aggregator. I’m throwing down the gauntlet on you LJers because some of you talk about how cool RSS is. So far NOBODY has been able to provide me with a demonstration of the value of RSS. Until I can use it myself, I’m not going to go to the trouble of putting it in place. To date, RSS has been demonstrably worthless, because nobody has been able to demonstrate its worth.

Here’s your challenge: Post useful, clear instructions, such that I can follow them and observe the (to date wholly THEORETICAL) benefits of RSS for myself.

Go on, I dare you.


42 thoughts on “A cry for help from the RSS zealots”

  1. Through the magic of RSS, I see entries from non-LJ blogs and some comics on my friends page. This means that, well, I have all of my LJ friends, plus many other things that I like to read on a daily (well, okay, many-times-daily) basis in one place.

        1. D’oh! Just checked and I can’t add an RSS feed to a free account. Guess I need to figure out how to write a page that will get all my LJ friends as well as others on one page.

          1. LJ’s handling of RSS feeds is weird. LJ needs the feed added to their own internal database, so that LJ users can add the feed just like a normal “friend.” However, only paid users can add feeds to the LJ database.

            Free users can add to their Friends page any RSS feed that already exists in the LJ database, but they can not add new RSS feeds *to* the database.

            So just ask a paid user to add the feeds for you. 🙂

  2. I’ve seen it be cool in action — my friend’s Google homepage gives him the stock updates he wants, his Netflix queue, his local weather, and a bunch of other stuff, all in one spot.

    That said, I should concede that I’m a web programmer, and I still haven’t figured out how RSS works.

  3. I use Google Reader

    It’s nice for catching up on the various sites I read, and starring entries I find interesting, rather than having to deal with several bookmarks. It also nicely lets me know when I’ve already read something or not.

    I have BoingBoing, Slashdot, The Register, Irregular Webcomic, and Ars Technica on there…

    1. Some more info. The above linked comic doesn’t update regularly, so I follow the feed to know when to click through and read the comic. With your comic, that wouldn’t be very useful, since I know it updates at midnight eastern, or my money back. (Disclaimer: I have not given you any money, but if I do, I wouldn’t expect to actually get my money back in the unlikely event you unbuffered)

      Some comic feeds do include the images, so you don’t have to click over, but then you lose your ad space.

      As for actually using RSS, I pretty much only use it on LJ, although I cross post to Yahoo! 360 via RSS. And My Yahoo! can also be used as an RSS aggregator.

      1. You don’t necessarily lose your ad space. you just have to convert it, some. 🙂

        I’m in the camp of “rss is great, I’ve provided it on a few sites, but I only use it through lj on my friends list”

  4. off the cuff:

    You can add RSS feeds via LJ such that they show up in your friends-page view, as a user above noted (for example, I track bruce sterling’s and william gibson’s feeds this way). They occupy the same functional space, in the LJ UI, as communities (i.e. “quasi-users” that you friend, which aren’t actually individual people, but have all the operative properties thereof).

    See that [XML] button? That contains a link to the raw RSS file. (essentially, it’s just xml that some batch process updates or that is actually generated on the fly by something masquerading as a static xml file). You could copy that into any rss reader such as, say, the new personalizable google homepage, and a configurable-by-you number of entries would be displayed. There are RSS feeds for all. sorts. of. things, everything from sports scores to vendor security updates. So instead of hitting reload on fifty blogs, ten news sites, and checking a dozen other news sources, it’s all in one app or page. Any livejournal account has feeds associated with it (so you don’t have to read LJs through here), in a number of formats besides RSS. All those Gnome people beavering away at Novell probably have RSS feeds of their stuff in various places, if you felt like keeping tabs on them.

    There’s an entire section of the LJ FAQ devoted to syndication matters (i.e. RSS, RDF, Atom, etc. RSS seems to be the most common of those though).

    And basically anything that can comprehend XML can handle RSS somehow, from standalone applications like RSSOwl (cross-plaform, free) to dashboard widgets to taskbar things to external web pages written with RSS-module equipped programming languages (which, these days, is most of them), etc. etc. etc.

    I’m not even an RSS zealot per say, it’s just a handy technology. Much like html, it’s what you make of it because the support is widespread and the possibilities are essentially limited only by your curiosity and use for the technology.

    1. Re: off the cuff:

      The RSS standard has been frozen, so extensions have new names. Atom seems to be the main line of development, with several advantages over vanilla RSS. Though it doesn’t sound like it, Atom is actually an IETF draft standard. Use it.

      1. Re: off the cuff:

        *shrug* 🙂 Atom seems to be dying out in favor of RSS (e.g. google backing off of an atom-only policy for blogger), which is undergoing current work. You might be thinking of RDF?

        Its all just XML, so any stumbledick with half a clue and an API reference for their language of choice can figure it out.

  5. If Schlock had an LJ feed, then I’d very probably read the comic on my LJ, which would be incrementally less trouble for me than going to the site. Consequently, I’d never visit the webpage, never see your Google ads, and never click on any of them.

    So that would really be a win-lose situation.

    1. Yeah, I’ve always thought that creating an RSS feed for a webcomic is like shooting oneself in the foot. It could only possibly be useful for comics that do not have a regular update schedule, so that (RSS-savvy) readers are pretty much guaranteed to see the comic when it *does* update (but you’re never going to get the adviews or clicks that could be generated from the comic’s home page).

      1. On the other paw, some RSS feeds /include/ ads; the slashdot feed (linked below) is a fairly decent example.

        If the Schlock comicstrip feed also included the commentary on the website, I’d be quite content if each RSS post also included, say, a Google-based ad banner.

        1. On the other paw, some RSS feeds /include/ ads

          Interesting. Does LJ have an official stance on that, since they have a complete ban on money-making ad banners in ordinary journals?

  6. bah. see, usually i would be on the side of the RSS junkies, but in the case of Schlock, i really wouldn’t have any use for it, because your webcomic is in my ‘home tab group’ that opens when I open firefox. so what’s the point? Schlock is too good a comic to require a feed.

  7. Show me an aggregator.

    And I show you Firefox. RSS feeds are indicated in the toolbar, and you add them like bookmarks (making them live). Which means, if you can make an RSS feed for Schlock’s comics and open leters, you have folks comming in when it updates.

    Some stand-alone agregiators will show the feeds as a webpage, making it embeddable.

    1. I still don’t see it. Where in the toolbar? Give me step-by-step instructions, with sites of your choosing, and perhaps we’ll be in business.

      We’re having this discussion BECAUSE I’m running Firefox — this grew out of a Nightstar thread that in turn grew out of my recent plug.

      1. 1. Go to slashdot.com, or any LJ
        2. Look for the orange (depending on your theme) “add live bookmark” icon. It’s usually at the right side of the address bar, or in the status bar. Click it.
        3. Use this form to add the live bookmark.
        4. It will show as a folder that lists all the recent stories or blog entries, updated automagically.


        1. Oh, it only shows for pages that have the relevant tag in there. Check the source on any LJ page; it’ll show in the first few lines.

      2. Now I get to plug. 🙂

        Go to http://www.stalag99.net (although your LiveJournal will show it anyway), and then look at the status bar (turn it on if you don’t have it active). On the right hand side down there, you’ll see a little picture of a white dot and two white “waves” on an orange block. Move your mouse over it, and it’ll say “Add Live Bookmark for this page’s feed.” Click on it, and a menu will pop up, allowing you to subscribe to a particular feed.

    2. is correct. Here is a demonstration.

      In Firefox, go to the “popular” page on del.icio.us, to name but one example. In the bottom right of Firefox you will see an orange button. When you click it, it shows you the words “Subscribe to RSS.” Click that. It then asks you where to place the bookmark. Choose “Create in: Bookmarks Toolbar”. You now have a drop-down menu showing today’s most popular websites that have been tagged on del.icio.us.

      RSS feeds as live bookmarks in that way which I just described have completely changed how I use the web every single time I open my browser. There are drop-down menus which list:
      – every Gmail I have received.
      – every new entry in every blog I read.
      – every new article in TUX magazine.
      – every announcement my minions make to the Penguicon news page
      – every edit that is made on the Penguicon wiki or other wikis that I watch.

      I have a 24-hour information umbilical delivered directly to me. I never have to go to any webpage unless these drop-down menus inform me there is something new and shiny there. Except for Schlock Mercenary.

  8. We’ve had this discussion on the BLC forums, but I’m not pointing fingers at you. Or maybe I am, but they’re nice fingers. MAGIC fingers, with the quarter inserted and everything.


  9. In recent months, when I boot my desktop, I generally pop open three programs: an email reader (Thunderbird), webbrowser (Firefox), and RSS reader (Feedreader, downloadable at http://www.feedreader.com/ ). I generally skim through what comes up via RSS twice a day, once when I get up and once in the evening; it’s handier than clicking open up all the bookmarks every day.

    In Feedreader, I have created several subfolders for related feeds: Comics, Furry, Rats, Adult, Space, Games, Localish, and Disaster-related; I also have some RSS feeds outside these groups.

    My RSS feed list (snipped to only Safe For Work entries):

    (at the top:)










    1. Also, Feedreader automagically lets me see which stories are new, and which I’ve either read or marked as read (eg, if I don’t want to bother reading any Space articles today, I can simply select the ‘Space’ folder and select ‘mark all as read’ with ctrl-r).

      I’d probably have a few more feeds listed, but I’ve recently started playing with Firefox’s ‘open all bookmarks in this folder in tabs’ option for some of my daily sites/comics, and haven’t finished figuring out which are better viewed via RSS or via plain HTML.

      If anybody’s curious, the remainder of my daily newsfeed comes from Wikipedia’s current events ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Current_events ) and Canadian current events ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadian_current_events ) pages; a selection of usenet groups (including fur.*) and Steve Jackson Games usenet-style groups; a collection of Google Alerts ( http://www.google.com/alerts?hl=en ) on particular topics; and a collection of old-fashioned mailing lists. I’ve actually mostly given up on broadcast TV news and newspapers (except for one that focuses on local events rather than clipping services from around the world); heck, I happened to be awake at the time, so I noticed news about last December’s big earthquake in Indonesia as soon as the USGS feed reported it.

      (Oh, and I get my local weather via the ForecastFox extension for Firefox.)

      If /you/ happen to like the major news outlets’ slant on things, you can subscribe to RSS feeds from the BBC, CBS, ABC, Reuters, and just about every other news agency you can think of; I did, but after paying attention to how many of their stories I actually /read/, I simply unsubscribed from them one-by-one, until I ended up with the selection you see above: rather geek-heavy, but it’s what I like. 🙂

  10. Look at my LJ friends page, it is mostly RSS feeds. I renamed it “Feed Bag” because of this. Your friends page is essentially an RSS feed reader. It is filled with other LJ users RSS feeds.

    1. QuestionableRSS actually got started by somebody other than Jeph, and he said that he’d prefer that his ads showed up so he gets at least a similar kind of ad exposure there. So a day or so after he said that, voila, the ads appeared.


  11. I personally find RSS feeds handy for comics that don’t update at regular times, or who are on hiatus. That way I don’t bother visiting every day to find the two days the author found the time to make a new comic.

    But by that logic, you’re the LAST webcomic artist to need an RSS feed.

  12. I swear I’m not an RSS zealot. ._.

    Now, personally, I don’t see why you should put your comic (the image, I mean) in the RSS feed. Double-plus ungood idea.

    I can’t really tell you anything about how RSS benefits you as a business. I’m not in the web content creation business, so I know nothing about it.

    I use multiple computers, so instead of a piece of software, I depend on bloglines to allow me to read my feeds.

    It’s the aggregator I find most useful, since I can log into it from anywhere, it’s free, and it has several forms of notification that I can use to tell me if a new post has come on.

    Now, why is the RSS aggregator useful to me? Well, I get to keep track of media that is either irregularly updated, or I irregularly check (it also serves as a useful method of ‘catching up’ if I’ve been offline for a while, since it shows me the number of new entries that have been made into the RSS feed). This applies to comics, blogs or news services.

    Now, what does this mean? Well, let me see if I can comply to your instructions first:

    1. Register to Bloglines. Since it’s a web service, there’s that registration requirement. It’s aggravating for a lot of people, but since I hop from machine to machine, it’s kind of useful to me.
    2. Once I’ve registered and logged in, I can add a feed by either typing the URL of that site or their LJ, Blogger or Xanga name. Bloglines will try and see if any RSS feed references this site. If it does, then you can either preview each candidate and add them if you like ’em.

      For some reason, Bloglines may not necessarily only just display that particular site’s feeds—in some cases I find pirate feeds for webcomics when I’m looking for feeds for, say, Penny-Arcade or PvP. I generally avoid the pirate feeds. Honest!

    3. Once that’s done, and if you’re logged in, you can go see what feeds you’ve added in the feeds page. That sorta kinda regularly updates, but I prefer using the different notifiers, since then I can do other things… er, like, apparently posting instructions to someone thousands of miles away. Er.

    I don’t know if any of this is useful or not. I mean, for one thing, I’m pretty sure our needs differ. But you did ask.

    Holy moley, I should be getting back to work.

    1. Re: I swear I’m not an RSS zealot. ._.

      I too am a Bloglines user (even more so now that the keyboard shortcuts were introduced), and I got to this post via it. As for me, I use Firefox exclusively at work and home, so I use both of the Bloglines Firefox tools.

      First, the Bloglines Toolkit is great because you get a small notifier. And a single click opens up Bloglines in a new tab!

      But, even more important is LiveLines. Now, with the Toolkit, you are able to right-click on a link and get a context menu to subscribe to the feed. However, with sites that have the correct stuff that enables the orange LiveBookmark icon in Firefox, LiveLines allows you to instead use it to subscribe in Bloglines. It’s great!

      I, like many others here, use my aggregator to view comics sites. In fact, if a site offers a feed, I subscribe so I don’t have to keep a giant folder of comics to check everyday. Thanks to Kris Straub, I do SsC and, formerly, CxN this way. And, with Steve Troop putting up a Melonpool feed, I now read that every day!

      Finally, as an aside, I recommend getting Tabbrowser Preferences for the best Bloglines experience. Using it, you can have all the “new window” type links to open in a new, unfocused tab. Then, a click opens any feed article into a new tab that I can read at my leisure.

  13. Other folks have mentioned LJ’s syndication feature…but something I’ve done is to put Technorati and Google Blog Search searches on my LJ friends page that way. In Google Blog Search, you can get an RSS feed of the search you just did: there’s a link at the bottom of the page. and are both feeds set up that way. I don’t remember how Technorati does it any more, but is a Technorati RSS feed. You can also set those up via the Firefox (or Safari, which has a similar feature) RSS reader function.

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