Content syndication

Ever have one of those moments where you think “Why didn’t I do this before?”. During my recent forray into the Weblog world I started to realize how useful the ability to syndicate content via RSS or Atom is.

A great example of this is the ‘planet’ phenomenon started by Jeff Waugh in the Free software community. The various planet sites aggregate the Blogs of Free Software contributors into one site where you can keep track of all of them. Here is a couple of examples:

Sites like these are an amazingly good way to keep up on the Free software projects you are interested in.

Now back to the “Why didn’t I do this before?” question. I scan a lot of news sites everyday. This takes considerable time. Worse, since there is no notification of new entries I continually poll the same sites many times throughout the day. This time killer may now be a thing of the past due to RSS readers. There are RSS readers for all platforms but since I only use Linux and GNOME apps there are two that I have been playing with.

Both seem to be quite good. I like Blam’s UI a little more but Straw seems to be more mature and handles the various RSS feeds better. It also supports the Atom syndication format mentioned above. Blam is written in C# and thus requires Mono. Straw is written in Python which most linux distributions have installed by default. Both use the GTK+ bindings for their respective language so they integrate well with the rest of my GNOME desktop.

Downsides to using a RSS reader instead of visiting the site?

  • Not all sites have full RSS feeds. Slashdot and OSNews for example only give the first sentence or so of the news item. Fortunately, I was able to find a full RSS feed for Slashdot at Alterslash. From my limited experience it seems that the commercial sites are the ones that do not provide full RSS feeds. I guess this makes sense. They are not selling ad space when someone only views their content via RSS.
  • The presentation of the content is not the same. For the most part this doesn’t matter since the content is more important anyway. Especially in the case of Blog content.
  • Neat extras like the Slashdot poll are missed.

Is the time savings worth the trade offs? It’s experiment time.

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