creative commons licensed wikimedia commons image by Housing Works Thrift Shops
creative commons licensed wikimedia commons image by Housing Works Thrift Shops

While RSS is still a dying technology, I offer some insight into its innards. If the mundane details of feed data make you queasy, carry on. If you want to know what’s going on under the hood of your blog and the Connected Courses syndication hub, then trudge on.

This started with a reasonable request from Liz Dorland, a colleague I’ve known since my mullet headed days at Maricopa

So here is the thing, the list of all syndicated blogs on the site is automatically generated from the RSS feed for each blog, so the title of the blog and the link are ones provided by the blog itself.

There are two main parts of an RSS feed- there is the “Channel” information, which describes the source of the site, and the “items: which are typically all the data of the blog posts. The channel information for this here blog looks like:

<channel>
<title>CogDogBlog</title>
<atom:link href="http://cogdogblog.com/feed/" rel="self" type="application/rss+xml"/>
<link>http://cogdogblog.com</link>
<description>Alan Levine Barks Here</description>
<lastBuildDate>Mon, 08 Sep 2014 15:20:04 +0000</lastBuildDate>
<language>en-US</language>
<sy:updatePeriod>hourly</sy:updatePeriod>
<sy:updateFrequency>1</sy:updateFrequency>
<generator>http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2</generator>

It’s all XML data organized into tags. Whenever Feed WordPress checks a site for new content, it grabs the information listed in the <title>...</title> tag and the <link>...</link>. If the title of a blog changes then Feed WordPress updates it in the database of the aggregator site. This way the blog name and its URL are dynamic, if they change on the source site, the aggregator gets the change (people do rename blogs!).

These are the information bits the script I wrote to generate the list of blogs and links. So if an RSS feed does not provide good information, that shows up.

In the case of Liz’s Blog, the feed information for the channel is… well… messed up. fubar

    <title></title>
    <link>http://www.hastac.org/blog/feed/884</link>
    <description></description>
    <language>en</language>

Notice that the title is blank. Even worse the link tag has the wrong URL- it should be the URL for her blog is http://www.hastac.org/blog/884/ but the link tag value in the RSS feed is the one for the RSS feed itself.

I cannot do much about bad RSS information (except make drupal jokes). But Feed WordPress offers a way to override the lack of good information.

liz settings

The default setting for the feed information is Update automatically from feed, but I can change the blog title and the link to be manually entered, so here I am entering the correct information.

But do not let me rest too much on my WordPress Snobbery– it’s feeds are a bit clunky too. The source name for a tag of category comes in, like for Brian Lamb’s blog where he is using a “connected courses” tag as

Abject » connected courses

I’d sooner see this as “Abject tagged ‘connected courses'”

But worse, the link which should point to his tag archive, instead points to the root of his entire blog.

links cates

This is why I modified the script to point to all of the posts on the Connected Courses site syndicated from each blog (this is essentially an author archive, where the author is Brian’s blog).

If your blog’s name is horribly wrong, I can be coaxed into editing it like I did Liz’s. Frankly I hope someone notifies the HASTAC site about the foulups in their RSS feeds. I don’t think developers really care that much about the quality of the channel feed data.

But I thought maybe one person out there might want to know the nuts and bolts on the blog names and links.

And hey- did you notice we added a link to download an OPML file? That is a way you can import al of the Connected Course blogs into an RSS Reader, a much better way to navigate the fire hose (someone tell Google this is useful) (that ship has sailed).

The post "What’s [Not] in Your Feed Channel?" was originally emerged from the primordial ooze and first walked on land at CogDogBlog (http://cogdogblog.com/2014/09/whats-not-in-your-feed-channel/) on September 8, 2014.

2 Comments

  • VanessaVaile (@VanessaVaile)

    Thanks for the look under the hood. I’m not surprised about the HASTAC site as navigation is and feed display in my replacement reader(s)….disappointing. But really, I would have expected them to known/do better

    PS I’m very happy to have the OPML file for said reader(s). Thank you for that too.

    I’m still not reconciled to RSS dying

  • Thanks, Alan – I’d been wondering how to set up a mini-hub for my local cohort, and I think the reference to Feed WordPress is pointing me in the right direction.

Leave a Comment

All fields are required. Your email address will not be published.