There’s probably no way to over-emphasize the importance of the RSS feed when it comes to syndicating your podcast. Without it, you don’t really have a podcast at all but rather an audio file sitting on your hard drive. The truth is creating an RSS feed from scratch can get pretty geeky, requiring at least some basic knowledge of HTML and XML. The good news is you can syndicate your podcast through the miracle of RSS without ever touching a line of code. WordPress blogging software already has everything built in that you need to automatically generate the feed.
If you’ve never seen an RSS feed up close and personal, take a look at the following code. That’s not so overwhelming, is it? As RSS files are essentially XML formatted plain text, the RSS file itself is relatively easily read both by automated processes and by humans alike. An example file could have contents such as the following. This could be placed on any appropriate communication protocol for file retrieval, such as http or ftp, and reading software would use the information to present a neat display to the end user.
<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8″ ?>
<description>This is an example of an RSS feed</description>
<lastBuildDate>Mon, 06 Sep 2010 00:01:00 +0000 </lastBuildDate>
<pubDate>Mon, 06 Sep 2009 16:45:00 +0000 </pubDate>
<description>Here is some text containing an interesting description.</description>
<guid>unique string per item</guid>
<pubDate>Mon, 06 Sep 2009 16:45:00 +0000 </pubDate>
RSS (often dubbed Really Simple Syndication) is a family of web feed formats used to publish frequently updated works—such as blog entries, news headlines, audio, and video—in a standardized format. An RSS document (which is called a “feed”, “web feed”, or “channel”) includes full or summarized text, plus metadata such as publishing dates and authorship.
RSS feeds benefit publishers by letting them syndicate content automatically. A standardized XML file format allows the information to be published once and viewed by many different programs. They benefit readers who want to subscribe to timely updates from favorite websites or to aggregate feeds from many sites into one place.
RSS feeds can be read using software called an “RSS reader“, “feed reader”, or “aggregator“, which can be web-based, desktop-based, or mobile-device-based. The user subscribes to a feed by entering into the reader the feed’s URI or by clicking a feed icon in a web browser that initiates the subscription process. The RSS reader checks the user’s subscribed feeds regularly for new work, downloads any updates that it finds, and provides a user interface to monitor and read the feeds. RSS allows users to avoid manually inspecting all of the websites they are interested in, and instead subscribe to websites such that all new content is pushed onto their browsers when it becomes available.
The RSS formats were preceded by several attempts at web syndication that did not achieve widespread popularity. The basic idea of restructuring information about websites goes back to as early as 1995, when Ramanathan V. Guhaand others in Apple Computer‘s Advanced Technology Group developed the Meta Content Framework.
RDF Site Summary, the first version of RSS, was created by Dan Libby and Ramanathan V. Guha at Netscape. It was released in March 1999 for use on the My.Netscape.Com portal. This version became known as RSS 0.9. In July 1999, Dan Libby of Netscape produced a new version, RSS 0.91, which simplified the format by removing RDF elements and incorporating elements from Dave Winer‘s scriptingNews syndication format. Libby also renamed RSS Rich Site Summary and outlined further development of the format in a “futures document”.
This would be Netscape’s last participation in RSS development for eight years. As RSS was being embraced by web publishers who wanted their feeds to be used on My.Netscape.Com and other early RSS portals, Netscape dropped RSS support from My.Netscape.Com in April 2001 during new owner AOL‘s restructuring of the company, also removing documentation and tools that supported the format.
Two entities emerged to fill the void, with neither Netscape’s help nor approval: The RSS-DEV Working Group and Winer, whose UserLand Software had published some of the first publishing tools outside of Netscape that could read and write RSS.
Winer published a modified version of the RSS 0.91 specification on the UserLand website, covering how it was being used in his company’s products, and claimed copyright to the document. A few months later, UserLand filed a U.S. trademark registration for RSS, but failed to respond to a USPTO trademark examiner’s request and the request was rejected in December 2001.
The RSS-DEV Working Group, a project whose members included Guha and representatives of O’Reilly Media and Moreover, produced RSS 1.0 in December 2000. This new version, which reclaimed the name RDF Site Summary from RSS 0.9, reintroduced support for RDF and added XML namespaces support, adopting elements from standard metadata vocabularies such as Dublin Core.
In December 2000, Winer released RSS 0.92 a minor set of changes aside from the introduction of the enclosure element, which permitted audio files to be carried in RSS feeds and helped spark podcasting. He also released drafts of RSS 0.93 and RSS 0.94 that were subsequently withdrawn.
In September 2002, Winer released a major new version of the format, RSS 2.0, that redubbed its initials Really Simple Syndication. RSS 2.0 removed the type attribute added in the RSS 0.94 draft and added support for namespaces. To preserve backward compatibility with RSS 0.92, namespace support applies only to other content included within an RSS 2.0 feed, not the RSS 2.0 elements themselves. (Although other standards such as Atom attempt to correct this limitation, RSS feeds are not aggregated with other content often enough to shift the popularity from RSS to other formats having full namespace support.)
Because neither Winer nor the RSS-DEV Working Group had Netscape’s involvement, they could not make an official claim on the RSS name or format. This has fueled ongoing controversy in the syndication development community as to which entity was the proper publisher of RSS.
One product of that contentious debate was the creation of an alternative syndication format, Atom, that began in June 2003. The Atom syndication format, whose creation was in part motivated by a desire to get a clean start free of the issues surrounding RSS, has been adopted as IETF Proposed Standard RFC 4287.
In July 2003, Winer and UserLand Software assigned the copyright of the RSS 2.0 specification to Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, where he had just begun a term as a visiting fellow. At the same time, Winer launched the RSS Advisory Board with Brent Simmons and Jon Udell, a group whose purpose was to maintain and publish the specification and answer questions about the format.
In December 2005, the Microsoft Internet Explorer team and Microsoft Outlook team announced on their blogs that they were adopting the feed icon first used in the Mozilla Firefox browser (). In February 2006, Opera Software followed suit. This effectively made the orange square with white radio waves the industry standard for RSS and Atom feeds, replacing the large variety of icons and text that had been used previously to identify syndication data.
In January 2006, Rogers Cadenhead relaunched the RSS Advisory Board without Dave Winer’s participation, with a stated desire to continue the development of the RSS format and resolve ambiguities. In June 2007, the board revised their version of the specification to confirm that namespaces may extend core elements with namespace attributes, as Microsoft has done in Internet Explorer 7. According to their view, a difference of interpretation left publishers unsure of whether this was permitted or forbidden.
And that’s probably more than you ever wanted to know about RSS. Just remember, without RSS there is no podcasting.
The Speaking of Wealth Team
Flickr / Victorrochajr