Why did I choose the name Web Feed for this blog? After all, we’re exploring cutting edge social media marketing and SEO tools and techniques on this site. And the domain name web-feed.com doesn’t seem to properly reflect main topics of discussion, right?
I’ve been asked this question thousand times in many variations, so I decided to write a blog post explaining the reasoning behind this decision.
- How, where and why to use one format instead of another?
- What’s the difference between web feed and RSS feed?
- Are live feeds and news feeds the same as web feeds or they are some kind of a different feed?
- Is RSS related to XML feed or HTML feed? (This is technically not a correct question.)
This list goes on and on. Hopefully in this post I’ll provide enough information to shed the light on the concept of dynamic content distribution and clarify the confusion.
First of all, web feed syndication (mostly known as RSS 2.0) is an underlying technology for social media platforms and almost anything else you can find in current socially-friendly web environment. When we talk about live feeds, news feeds, podcasts or videocasts, bookmarks or numerous content sharing tools, we essentially refer to different types and formats and uses of web feeds.
So in essence, when we discuss social networks or social media marketing or reputation management via social media channels, what we really discuss are new or improved ways to publish, distribute, share or otherwise slice and dice various web feeds.
Now that I briefly answered why I chose web-feed to cover social media-related news, let’s look at different ways to categorize web feeds according to their versions, formats, purpose, functionality, flexibility and standardization.
Two main formats for web feeds are RSS and Atom. When people refer to RSS, they most often think about RSS 2.0. While there are 9 different versions of RSS, for the practical purposes let’s concentrate on two versions which are used the most.
RSS 2.0 versus RSS 1.0
If you ask what RSS stands for, you most likely will get an answer that this is an abbreviation for “Real Simple Syndication”. Yet this explanation is only partially true. RSS also stands for “RDF Site Summary” where RDF is a metadata web standard. Former abbreviation is true for RSS 2.0 and the latter one is relevant to RSS 1.0.
Why is this important? It may not be important to you if your RSS feeds are generated automatically, for example through your CRM (such as WordPress).
In this case you most likely deal with RSS 2.0 which is sufficient for simple feeds.
RSS 2.0 is a most popular and simple version of RSS, but not the most flexible one. If you want to add some extra flavor and customization, you might need to create the feed yourself.
In this case you should go with either Atom or RSS 1.0. We’ll explore Atom a little later.
For now let’s look at RSS 1.0. It is similar in syntax to RSS 2.0, both are XML-based lists. Yet RSS 1.0 provides the ability not only to utilize existing RSS modules, but also to create your own. Add the compatibility with RDF, and you get an extended functionality of the feed which could be useful for inclusion of custom elements. RSS2.0 on another hand is still pretty rigid, though you can find flexibility within extensions defined with XML Namespaces.
Web Feed Formats – RSS and Atom
Format-wise there are currently two types of web feeds –RSS and Atom. We already talked about RSS. Now let’s look at Atom.
- Atom is published by IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force, a body of standards on the Internet) which assures its stability
- Atom utilizes IANA-registered MIME type and enables auto-subscription in readers
- Atom allows encoded binary. XML Encryption or XML Digital Signature could be used in addition to standard web encryption techniques. (This combination provides a more secure environment for fee-based feed services.)
- Atom provides substantial flexibility since its elements could be used in external structures (RSS can only be used as is).
Web Feed Parsing and Publishing -HTML Feeds, RSS Readers and Feed Aggregators
Now let’s get back to the question “Is RSS related to XML feed or HTML feed?” As you recall I mentioned earlier that this question is not technically correct. RSS is an XML-based list format but It could be viewed both in XML and HTML, in this regard RSS is “related” to both XML and HTML.
Though RSS feed could be read in XML format, this format is not considered human-friendly. It’s usually parsed by various desktop and web software programs known as RSS readers and is displayed in a human-friendly user interface such as the one provided by web aggregators and desktop readers.
Feed aggregators, web aggregators and desktop readers are basically different names for different programs providing the same functionality – they help people to consume web feeds.
Web Feed Utilization – Live Feeds and Digests
Web feeds could be used to distribute any information presented in a list form.
Event schedules, news, summary of activity for a certain period of time, data updates, such as blog updates or updates through RSS readers, audio and video updates known as podcasts, product inventory updates through categorized product feeds – there are so many possible uses for web feeds that it’s impossible to mention them all.
Based on time delay feeds could be categorized as feed digests and live feeds.
Live feeds display information that is happening live, at this very moment. Here are a few examples of live feeds:
- Newest Tweets within your Twitterfeed,
- Live Facebook updates,
- Real-time plurks,
- Real-time forum posts
- Blog posts that are just published,
- New Youtube videos that are just uploaded
- Social bookmarks that were just made
- Likes, shares, thumbs, stumbles, diggs that were just done
- Information about anything else that is happening right now
Feed digest is usually a summary of activity that happened within certain social community during a defined period of time (within one day, one week, one month, etc). Hence, there are daily digests, weekly digest, monthly digests, and any other sort of digest you could think of.
Time frame is not important, what important is that in a digest there is always a certain time delay between the time information appears first and the time it is published in a digest along with other content.
So here you have it – a quick overview of web feeds of different types, formats, purpose and functionality.
As always, I am looking forward to read your comments. Don’t forget to tweet, like, bookmark or otherwise share this post