Syndication Formats

Now that you’ve designed your blog, should you syndicate it? Syndication, while it sounds somewhat intimidating, really means nothing more than making your site available in a slightly different format so that it can be processed and read more efficiently. In the most basic sense, a web page itself is, in fact, syndication – you are providing data, and that data is wrapped in a formatting language (HTML/XHTML) that tells a browser how to display the data.

While a typical web page is a form of syndication, it’s not really the easiest method for gathering data from multiple locations and reading it in the most efficient manner. That’s where RSS comes in. RSS has multiple definitions, but all of them mean essentially the same thing: That you are providing information in a format that is easy for others to collect and read in their aggregator of choice.

The first choice you must make is the format to use for your RSS. You will find two primary competitors. RSS 1.0 or RDF fans are generally aligned in one camp and RSS 2.0 supporters in the other. Try not to be confused by the naming schemes. While they are somewhat different from one another, at the most basic level, only the syntax varies a bit. At this point, either is as good a choice as the other.

And luckily for you, you don’t always have to make a choice. Content management systems, such as Movable Type, may allow you to create templates that produce the desired output any time you rebuild your page. Very little work to it. In fact, MT v2.64 comes with templates for both versions out-of-the-box.

What about other versions? Atom, ESF and RSS 3.0, for instance? Well, Atom is still under development and we can’t even decide on a name. ESF is arguably defined, but not in widespread use. And RSS 3.0 is, well, RSS 3.0. 🙂

Stick with the first two if anything. For practice, fun or just for the heck of it, try the others – but no sense worrying about them to any degree at this point, so you can pretty safely ignore them. Once you’ve got everything else down and are looking for something else to do, then play with those lesser-used methods to keep your skills honed.

Which to choose? If you’ve got Movable Type, use both, because they’re already both there. If your CMS supports one but not the other, use the one you’ve got. If you don’t have any templates or any lead on either format, RSS 2.0 is marginally easier to code by hand, so it might be the way to get started.