Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The beauty of XML syndication (part 2)

Also known as

The beauty of Captain Sizzle (part 2)

So I'm sure you're all wondering: how do I use XML syndication to make my life the utopia that those glossy magazine ads say it can be?

Rather than give you all the hairy details about XML formatting and RSS data formats, I'm just going to give you some quick steps so that you can try it for yourselves.

Step 1: Download and install a news reading program such as Lektora.
I've tried several other aggregation programs (including FeedReader) and i like Lektora best because it runs from within my web browser.

From this point, my instructions will be for Lektora, but many of the steps will be the same with other news readers.

Step 2: Take a look at your Lektora newspaper.
When you install Lektora, two new buttons will appear in your web browser. The one that looks like a newspaper opens a list of news feeds. Lektora comes pre-configured with about 15 feeds, sorted into categories like News, Business and Sports. Clicking on one of the feeds in the left-hand pane will display the data from the feed in the right-hand pane.

The way this works is pretty simple. Let's say you want the headlines from the New York Times. Your news program sends a request to the NYTimes website for a particular web page that just *happens* to be in a format that your news reader understands. Usually, this special web page contains a headline and a summary of the story. In Lektora, when you click on the headline, a new window will open that displays the entire story.

Step 3: Once you've read a few news stories, you'll probably want to customize your feeds.
In Lektora, you can remove a feed by clicking on the Customize button at the top of the Lektora window, clicking the feed you want to remove, and finally clicking the Delete button at the top of the customization window.

Adding feeds is a little more complicated, but way cool.

On easy way to add a feed is to go to the web site and click the button labeled XML, RSS or ATOM. Some standard buttons are displayed below.

And news sites aren't the only web sites with feeds. Lots of blogs have them too. The feed button for this blog appears in the right-hand sidebar, and looks like this:

ATOM Site Feed

A lot of blogspot blogs have a feed, but don't include a link to it. For these sites, you can use Lektora's auto-discovery tool to try and find a feed. Just navigate to the web site and click the Lektora button with the image of the magnifying glass.

Lektora also provides you with several other ways to add feeds, but they're a bit more complicated. You can read about them once you've opened Lektora's customization window.

So there you go. XML syndication! If you want to know more about how it works, check out Wikipedia's articles on web syndication and news aggregators. And if you really want the nitty and the gritty, you might start with this article on the O'Reilly xml site. Or ignore all that "how it works" stuff and just play around with Lektora. Or FeedDemon. Or whatever.

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