Content syndication – more popular than ever!

Is RSS dead?

You may well ask if RSS is dead, but in reality RSS is very much alive and kicking. It is true that a number of major content providers such as Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest have deprecated their RSS services. Driven by changes to preferred feed mechanisms, many large information and social media sources are moving towards the use of APIs as opposed to RSS. This is mostly a matter of economy and convenience for them as their APIs are used for all manner of software applications. Using the same APIs to provide feed generation allows them to reduce the resources previously required to deliver content via RSS.

RSS is still very popular

is rss deadSo is RSS dead?..Not for tens of millions of WordPress and other popular CMS users/publishers. RSS is still the most convenient method to feed data from web pages. RSS is built into most CMS platforms so it makes sense to use this functionality. Obviously sites like Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook are built on a proprietary platform.

This means that providing and supporting RSS feeds requires specific resources to maintain service levels. Facebook for example, already provides this information through their Facebook Graph API, which is designed for programmers to build Facebook software and apps. At FeedWind we wrote our own software which accesses the Facebook API to extract information which we combine into a feed.

Re-using code is not an option

is rss aliveIf the world of software was simple, we could simply reuse that code to provide support for Instagram and many other social media providers. Unfortunately each of these platforms has a different API so the code we write to extract a feed from an API is different from each platform we support. Obviously there is some code we recycle but overall, a lot of programming effort goes into each platform we support.

Let’s take a quick look at RSS feeds and what they are. Many people think RSS is a simple standard that uses XML to deliver website content in a markup format which contains no formatting data. To an extent this is true. In fact, feeds can be one of five versions of the RSS standard, or one of two versions of the Atom standard (a similar markup specification for feeds).

In amongst this, FeedWind has to be able to figure out which of these standards a particular feed adheres to. Fortunately this information is included in the header of a valid feed so this is not the big challenge.

Feed parsing

Things do get complex when detecting and parsing to determine relevant elements for inclusion in your widget. A good example of this challenge is in deciding which image we should select as a thumbnail. We have to detect language, feed title, item titles plus their descriptions, images, timezones, date/time formats and deal with content in XML that is not relevant to the display of a feed. For Google calendar we have to extract different information such as event data.

Determining feed origin

Once we have achieved this we also have to determine what origin the feed has. Is it a YouTube channel, Facebook feed, Google Calendar feed or a regular RSS feed? These all require a specific approach when it comes to parsing the content for display in our widget. A YouTube feed for example requires a video player; as mentioned above,  Facebook feed requires us to use the Facebook Graph API in order to extract the feed data which is not in XML like a regular RSS feed and Google Calendar has different information from other feeds such as event data which are not a component of other RSS feeds.

Ever more complex solutions

All this amounts to a complex backend to our system to cope with all these varied feed sources and mechanisms. Presently we require our users to select which feed type they want to display so that does make things a little easier (in the setup process users must select RSS/Facebook/Gcal as their source feed). However, from that point onwards, our software puts in a lot of hard work to format and present your feeds in a widget that can be customized in so many ways with little effort from the user.

We are constantly asked for expansions to our widget service to include online platforms which do not offer RSS as a feed format. Instagram and Pinterest for example, have joined others in abandoning RSS in favor of alternative methods for providing a feed source. Each one of these requires a significant programming effort for us to be able to display feeds generated from their APIs. We are actively working on these with Instagram most likely the first in a series of releases which will add support for more platforms.

Need to look good? ..you need a customizable widget!

There are services out there which offer a huge range of support for platforms whose feeds are API driven. However, they do not offer the same level of customization or features that FeedWind provides. Many have fixed format displays or templates, branding/advertising (which is generally obtrusive) and only a basic level of possible customizations.

We have focused on providing a consistent interface which can be used to customize/format feed content to match user needs rather than providing a basic, common widget format/display. A fixed format for a widget makes it difficult to match website design. For his treason, this type of widget will often stand out and can make a site look amateurish from a design perspective. Feedwind offers full CSS customization so our widgets can seamlessly integrate into nearly any website/CMS.