RSS – dontcha just love it?

By Nick Holmes on May 23, 2013
Comments Off on RSS – dontcha just love it?
Filed under Feeds, Twitter

I’m a big fan of RSS and wish it was better understood, after all it’s really simple. But it’s an open standard (like HTML and other geeky stuff), not a sexy platform (like Twitter et al).

Like me Dieter Bohn loves RSS. His piece in The Verge on Why RSS still matters is well worth reading in full, but from it first read this:

I’m fully aware that writing that I love a web standard and that it has enriched my life makes me sound awfully nerdy. Whatever: open web standards have enriched your life too, and in fact that’s the first of several reasons why I deeply disagree with the argument that Twitter can replace RSS.

First and foremost, Twitter is not an open web standard, it’s a service from a private company that once offered a relatively open API but now does not. Depending on a single company’s largess when it comes to creating an open and viable third-party app ecosystem is a fool’s game. We’ve seen Twitter locked down, Netflix dry up, and even Google itself has threatened a class of apps with the closure of Google Reader. I don’t trust Twitter to replace RSS because Twitter isn’t a standard. As a way to disseminate news, it serves at the pleasure of Dick Costolo. RSS, by comparison, is like a web page: anybody can create a feed, anybody can host it, anybody can make an app for it, anybody can read it.

RSS is built so deeply into the bones of so many websites and web services that we take it for granted. Your Tumblrs and your YouTube users and your Flickr friends and your favorite websites and blogs all usually offer RSS, automatically, with very little effort from their developers. It matters for the web that websites have a structured way to send their data out to apps and to other websites. Many of the apps that are suggested as a viable replacement for Google Reader — Flipboard comes to mind — pull just as much from RSS as they do from social feeds. More importantly, they pull from RSS freely, but they pull from Facebook and Twitter only because those companies let them.

If you don’t know how to read/subscribe to/consume RSS, there are plenty of articles out there. But bear in mind that Google is pulling Google Reader in July.

Here are a few tips for the initiated:

Can’t find a link to a site feed? Chances are you can guess it. To the [blog] home page URL append one of the following to create the default posts feed URL for the most popular blog/website platforms:

/feed (WordPress sites – the majority); or
/feeds/posts/default (Blogger sites).

Using infolaw Lawfinder you can browse by subject and search for most law blogs and legal update sites and their associated feeds.

As well as subscribing to site feeds, you can also usually easily subscribe to feeds for particular categories or tags and to search results. Here are a couple of examples from this site reflecting standard WordPress syntax for category and search results:

https://www.binarylaw.co.uk/category/cases/feed
https://www.binarylaw.co.uk/search/bailii/feed

WordPress makes it look so simple, doesn’t it. And it is! In principle it’s as easy for a site to provide an RSS feed of dynamic results as it is to produce the equivalent web page listing. Such feeds are a very effective way to generate custom alerts on very specific topics.

So it’s good to report that BAILII has now implemented just that … for experimental purposes at this point. (Joe Ury at BAILII stresses that “This is not formally supported, in that we’ll have to shut it down if we get too much server load from it, but as long as that doesn’t happen I don’t foresee problems.”)

To grab your feed, take a BAILII search results URL – which will include /cgi-bin/sino_search_1.cgi followed by your search parameters – and replace the 1 with rss, for example: http://www.bailii.org/cgi-bin/sino_search_rss.cgi?method=all&query=aircraft+noise

Now hop on over to legislation.gov.uk and you can do the same thing for legislation there. In that case take an advanced search URL and in front of the ? insert /data.feed and at the end append &sort=published, for example: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/all/data.feed?text=”Civil Aviation Act 2012″&sort=published

Neat huh? Who said RSS wasn’t sexy?