MUniversity of Minnesota

December 10, 2004

RSS Feeds

I got an interesting email today asking how can someone use UThink's blog RSS feeds to supply content to another web site. This is a great question and deserves some more discussion. For those of you that don't know, every blog on UThink automatically creates pages called RSS feeds, or newsfeeds, that anyone can subscribe to. Look at any blog on UThink (this one, for example) and along the left (or right ) hand side you should see a link that says "Syndicate this Site (XML)." RSS stands for "really simple syndication," and this link is the blog's RSS feed. If you click on this link you'll note that the feed simply highlights some of the recent postings made on this blog. Think of an RSS newsfeed as a "What's New" for the site that people can subscribe to. It may look like just a bunch of ugly text, but used with an RSS aggregator or another type of RSS reader, this link allows users to subscribe to this content or even display this content on another page all together.

If you've never subscribed to an RSS newsfeed before, it is quite easy to do and allows you to manage all the blogs, or sites with RSS feeds, you check on a daily basis from a single page or location. If you are interested in more information concerning RSS, check out this Introduction to RSS, and then try to subscribe to some blogs yourself with an RSS aggregator. There are a lot of RSS aggregators out there, but the easiest to get started with is Bloglines. This is a web based RSS aggregator that allows you to manage all your feeds with your web browser. Create an account, and then insert feeds from the blogs or sites you read most. Hopefully you'll quickly be able to see what a handy tool this is.

I've alluded to this above, but another use for RSS feeds is to provide content for another site all together. The MyU portal uses RSS feeds in this way. In fact, every channel within the My News tab is an RSS feed that the myU site grabs from somewhere else and then displays. This could also be done with UThink blogs. For example, using a UThink blog you could create a departmental newsletter and then highlight recent entries to your blog on your department's home page. This is something that the U of M Legislative Network does already with great success. Look at the upper right-hand corner of their page under the banner. You should see a section titled "News and Blog Updates." This section is fed from their Legislative Network Blog on UThink.

How can you do this also? There are many different methods, including ones that use Javascript, Perl, or PHP. I'm going to talk about one that uses PHP. First make sure PHP is installed on your server. Secondly, download the script "lastRSS" at http://lastrss.webdot.cz/. This is one of many RSS parsers/readers written in PHP, but I find it very easy to use. Save this script somewhere on your server and then use one of the examples listed on the lastRSS site to see if it works. If it does, give it your own RSS feeds. Just this morning I downloaded "lastRSS" and had a page of UThink RSS feeds up in two minutes. Feel free to check it out.

Let me know if you have any questions!

Posted by snackeru at December 10, 2004 01:19 PM