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Welcome to the world of RSS


I use command line tools for email (mutt) and Usenet (slrn), and if I wasn't using Google Reader for RSS now I would try the newsbeuter reader for text terminals.


A couple of days ago I discovered that NewsGator had decided to switch to using Google Reader for syncing its RSS readers and will be shutting down NewsGator Online at the end of August - see Google announcement. I had been doing the bulk of my RSS reading using NetNewsWire synced to a NewsGator Online account (I was given a free account when NewsGator acquired NetNewsWire). However, I had also been using Google Reader to keep up to date with the Blogger blogs I was following on my own Blogger account, so this seemed like a good opportunity to consolidate things around a single service. In fact I had stopped actively using Blogger a few months ago in favour of WordPress so it seemed to make sense for me to stop following blogs on Blogger and subscribe to their feeds directly in Google Reader instead.

The first thing I did was to export my subscription lists from NetNewsWire and Google Reader (the Google reader ones were just the blogs I was following on Blogger). I then removed NetNewsWire from my system along with all the associated files that had been created in my home directory, went into my Blogger account and deleted all the blogs I was following, and went into my NewsGator Online account and deleted all my subscriptions. Finally I imported the two subscriptions lists into Google Reader.

That all went without a hitch, so now when NewsGator Online goes away it won't affect me. In fact, I could have downloaded a beta version of NetNewsWire that does syncing via Google Reader but I decided to stop using it altogether, at least for now. I might decide to give NetNewsWire another try in the future, in which case it would simply be a matter of configuring it to sync with my Google Reader account, but for the moment I am quite happy with the Google Reader web interface.

That wasn't quite the end of it though! I also had a number of WordPress blogs on the blogroll of my WordPress blog, and I wasn't keeping up to date with reading them. So I subscribed to them in Google Reader and removed all but a select few from the blogroll. That left me with close to a hundred subscriptions in Google Reader but there were a few duplicates, some defunct ones and some that I thought I would be better off unsubscribing from. After a purge I was left with 66 feeds which broke down as:

I obviously knew that Blogger was run by Google (it was originally called Blogspot and was created by Pyra Labs which was bought by Google in 2003) but I only just realised that they also run FeedBurner (acquired by Google in 2007).

By the way, I had been expecting my NewsGator Online account to expire in June last year but I didn't hear anything about it and I can still log in - not that it matters to me now.


A few days ago, Brent Simmons announced the release of NetNewsWire 3.1 and in a complete surprise (to me anyway) announced that it is now free (along with the rest of NewsGator's stable of RSS clients). The logic seems to be that NewsGator's primary business is it's subscription service and the availability of free clients that are designed to synchronise with that service will attract more customers.

This announcement has caused quite a stir, and some criticism from people concerned that it will lead to a monopoly situation. People who bought NetNewsWire shortly before the announcement might also be justified in feeling that they got a bad deal. I bought it way back in June 2003 and as mentioned in my previous entry, when I upgraded to 2.1 (at no cost) in May 2006 I took advantage of the offer of a free two-year NewsGator Premium account. For me the original purchase of NetNewsWire was great value for money. In June I will have to decide whether to renew my NewsGator account but I will be able to continue using NetNewsWire regardless.


In October last year, NewsGator acquired NetNewsWire and Brent Simmons (the creator of NetNewsWire) joined the NewsGator team as a product architect. Since then, Brent has been working on a new release which features NewsGator syncing amongst other enhancements. I didn't bother with the beta versions but version 2.1 has just been released and I have now upgraded. As an existing NetNewsWire customer I was entitled to a NewsGator Online Premium account free for two years, a generous offer which I have taken advantage of. So now when I can't run NetNewsWire on my iBook I can still read my RSS subscriptions from anywhere that I can get web access, and everything is kept in sync automagically.


The RSS Advisory Board today took on eight new members and announced it as the beginning of a new era. The board was formed in 2003 and publishes the "Really Simple Syndication (RSS) specification". Would that it were that simple! There are three independent versions of RSS in circulation and the "RSS Advisory Board" only deals with one of them. Furthermore, all three are to some extent obsolete, attention having moved to RFC 4287 The Atom Syndication Format - read more at AtomEnabled.


Apple's latest version of iPhoto can apparently share photos across the Internet by creating a "photocasting feed" which is supposed to (according to Steve Jobs) be accessible to any standard RSS feed reader. Apparently there are some problems! Check out the discussions on the weblogs of Brent Simmons (here) and Dave Winner (here).


In RSS, Spam and Spyware II, Nick Bradbury gives links to a few recent articles that are worth reading. In one of the I learned that the sort of image decoding test used to prevent bots signing up for email accounts etc is called a captcha, which is an acronym for "Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart".


Tim Bray reports that Atom 1.0 is "cooked and ready to serve".


I am still using NetNewsWire 1.0.8 for reading RSS feeds even though a beta version of 2.0 has been available for ages. I am not a power RSS user so I am waiting for it to come out of beta before upgrading - something which seems likely to happen soon.


There is a good article on about Blocking RSS advertising.


Feedburner has a recent report on RSS traffic including aggregator market share. Bloglines is way out in front with over 30%, but at nearly 17% NetNewsWire comes in a strong second - which is interesting since it only runs on Mac OS X.


Brent Simmons complained about the fact that unique identifiers are not mandatory in the new RSS 1.1 specification, and shortly thereafter heard from Sean Palmer that this will be addressed in the next draft.


Attention.XML is an open standard to track attention metadata such as what you read and what you would like to learn more about. Niall Kennedy discusses this in the context of an AppleScript he wrote to export NetNewsWire subscribed feeds and followed items within the feed to the Attention.xml format.

Brent Simmons talks about The value of podcasting. I was not at all familiar with podcasting although I knew it was closely tied to RSS - check out the wikipedia entry for more information.


I had still been neglecting my RSS feed so I took it down recently.


Brent Simmons goes off on one about non-unique unique IDs.


The first public beta of NetNewsWire 2.0 has been released - here is a list of what's new.


What happens when you are reading a web page in a browser and you click on a button to subscribe to an RSS feed? That probably depends on your setup, but it is probably not what you would like to happen. Brent Simmons discusses the problem.


Brent Simmons talks about the importance of using Unique IDs in RSS feeds.

I recently subscribed to Steve Gilmor's Blogosphere feed, because he seems to be well clued up on RSS and Blogging in general. Yesterday he pointed out Sam Ruby's excellent Detente post, which takes a balanced look at the current state of RSS.

I am ashamed to say that I have still not been keeping the zenatode RSS feed up to date! I guess it is easy for people who use standard blogging software because it probably updates the feed automatically when new entries are created. I maintain my website by manual editing of Markdown files and never seem to have time to update the feed.


Brent Simmons, author of NNW, has graciously pointed out an upcoming competitor in the Mac OS X feed reader space. Erik J. Barzeski has been working on PulpFiction which addresses what he sees as serious shortcomings of NNW (although the next release of NNW will apparently address most of these). PulpFiction will have a Mail-like user interface.


If you are interested in meeting other RSS users, 2004-04-13 (and then the second Tuesday of every month) is International RSS Meetup Day.


Brent Simmons has put up a useful page about the Feed URL.


While in NetNewsWire I tried control clicking on my own feed to validate it. This took me to Feed Validator which gave me a "foo must be a full URL" error. I posted this report to and got some interesting responses.


I am using RSS 1.0 for the zenatode feed, so there is a "channel" element that contains a list of resource identifiers followed by a corresponding list of "item" elements. I had been maintaining the feed by manually editing the index.rdf file with vi but that was awkward and error prone. Today I started from scratch and came up with a way of generating the file semi-automagically. I now have no excuse for not keeping it up to date!


I had not even heard of RSS until about two weeks ago when I met a well informed couple in a pub garden and spent an hour or so talking shop. The guy, who works for the BBC, said that he now gets most of his online news by monitoring about 80 RSS feeds. When I got home I started to research the whole subject and downloaded a cool Mac OS X application called NetNewsWire to read RSS feeds on my iBook. Like others before me I found myself completely re-evaluating the way I get information from the web.

The next step was to "publish" my own RSS feed and here things get tricky due to the existence of several flavours of RSS. News readers generally handle all flavours reasonably well but for publishing you have to make a choice. I would suggest you start by reading Mark Nottingham's RSS Tutorial for Content Publishers and Webmasters.

To cut a long story short I decided to use the version known as "RDF Site Summary (RSS) 1.0" because it makes use of the standard "Resource Description Framework" on which the Semantic Web is based. As of today has a functional RSS feed (index.rdf) which checks out clean using the W3C RDF Validator. Ian Gregory 2010