Comments on: Change the RSS feed for this blog?
REBOL Technologies

Comments on: Change the RSS feed for this blog?

Carl Sassenrath, CTO
REBOL Technologies
19-Nov-2009 18:43 GMT

Article #0441
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From time to time I get a feedback from a reader mentioning that the RSS feed for this blog has some "issues"... just to summarize. Well, I don't like "issues"... especially ones that are broadcast like an RSS feed is.

For example, the most recent feedback mentions that we don't provide line terminators, so all the paragraphs run together on the feed. However, if I look at the feed, I do see line terminators, but we don't use markup tags. So, what do readers really want?

I think part of the problem is that the definition of an RSS feed has changed over the years. Originally, a feed was a simple condensed view of a web page. It didn't include much markup, formatting, images, etc.

But, like everything else that starts simple, over time it became complex. For example, on this blog we originally just posted the first paragraph as a teaser to tell you about a new article. Later, people wanted to see more, so we posted the entire text. Now it seems people want to see the entire HTML content.

These days, it seems that feeds have become just copies of the HTML pages from the sites. In my mind, that defeats the purpose of the feed, don't you think? I can always browse to the page if I want to see it nicely formatted.

So, tell me what we really want for the feed. If you prefer something specific, tell me exactly what you want, or even better, send me a function or two via feedback and make a comment here that you sent it (so others can know what you propose.)



19-Nov-2009 14:47:57
I like feeds that are well formatted. It is easier to read that way. The feed doesn't have to contain the whole article.

I guess the feed reader of choice has some impact on how the feeds are interpreted. I use Google Reader and the feeds from this blog comes as one big chunk of unformatted text. Very hard to read.

19-Nov-2009 14:53:55
I read all my feeds inside Google Reader, except "Carl's..." and "Rebol Front" because both look awful so I have to click link.

I don't check websites, manually track changes, looking for news, etc., WEB IS COMING TO ME inside feeds, with full content like youtube videos, pictures ... everything. And only things I like, for rest I hit UNSUBSCRIBE. If I'm interested to comments, I subscribe to them, if they getting boring I unsubscribe - easy.

Please change to full HTML.

19-Nov-2009 15:38:47

I'm the one who sent the feedback comment. I recently subscribed to a couple of Rebol blogs to follow the development of 3.0 and noticed that the Rebol feeds were the only ones with this problem.

When I mentioned line terminators, I was talking about the whole CR+LF thing that OSes use when pressing the carriage return. Unix/Linux and I think Macs use LF alone when you press the Carriage Return. Windows/DOS used both LF+CR whenever a CR is pressed.

For example, a decade+ ago text files written on Unix systems couldn't be read on DOS (or Windows) systems clearly because of the LF vs LF+CR issue. So PC users would not see new paragraphs and everything read as one long line (like the RSS feed). A bunch of utilities were developed called Unix2DOS, DOS2Unix, etc... to do the ASCII conversions on these text files.

It wasn't an issue on formatting (bold, italics, etc.. or the use of html tags) but on readability when multiple paragraphs run as a single line.

It would help to see what the feed looks like in Google Reader (don't know about other readers). There may be something happening during the writeups that strip multiple CRs or the feed manager you're using that doesn't recognize single LFs.

More info here:

PS: Thanks for following up on this:-)

19-Nov-2009 18:32:40
There are several possible variations of formatting in RSS feeds. Whichever you choose, run it through this validator:
19-Nov-2009 18:58:12
For reference: over the past half year I worked on fully compliant feeds, with formatting. Here's the result:

Note that it also links to a CSS stylesheet that nicely shows the XML feed in a readable form when people click on it in a browser that doesn't interpret it as RSS.

19-Nov-2009 22:24:34
Yes please, use markup to break the lines.

My reader also is expecting HTML, so unless you use eg < p / > tags as a minimum, it is very hard to read.

P.S. Kaj, the validator didn't complain at all about the actual *content* of the feed that we would read. So I guess it is more about user experience with their readers that will guide Karl as to what to do with the formatting.

20-Nov-2009 12:11:56
Yes, the formatting is an extra issue, but to add it makes the feed more complex, so there's more to validate. As Carl said, originally people just included a teaser in RSS feeds. In that case, you can just include the first paragraph of an article in plain text. When you add more, you need formatting. But that seems to be interpreted as HTML, so any line breaks get collapsed into just one space (this is not the traditional text line separator problem). Yet, if you really include HTML formattings tags and escape sequences, you end up with invalid XML, so you have to escape the entire block according to XML standards.

It's indeed quite messy because you are forced to mix two or three different markup languages.

Carl Read
21-Nov-2009 22:44:21
It's really to do with the reader as to how bad it'll look. ie. This reads reasonably well...

although there's no italics or bold. To my mind though, that's not a formatting issue but one of information loss. What you're emphasizing isn't getting through.

I also agree with those above who talk of the web coming to them. That's the point of RSS feeds. They're not for hints that you might want to go to site X, but to have site X's news or updates inserted seamlessly among a mix of other sites' news and updates. Pictures, videos - the whole shebang, all in ones personal reader.

22-Nov-2009 7:14:21
There is no italic, bold and further in the feed because it's in MakeDoc format. Obviously, RSS doesn't understand that, so it will look weird even in readers that properly show plain text.
Johnny Reb
22-Nov-2009 23:52:02
Has the definition changed of an RSS feed over the years as you claim or is it not, in truth, that competing specifications have changed?

The concept of a feed remains the same today as when one first appeared about December 1997 -- transmitted structured data best understood by the individual through a publishing syndication/subscription model.

The publishing syndication/subscription model lets content creators get their works in front consumers, faster. That's the point -- preemptively to "capture eyeballs".

Do we demand to stay with horse-and-buggies even though we have cars, trucks and vans simply because horses and buggies better exemplify to some the "purist" mindset?

It so happens that through time, feed readers have improved thus supporting ever better structured data for more than mere text summaries, but also audio streams and video streams. This is brilliant!

Formatted text works better because formatted text lets a man read more through a day than unformatted text would. In short, formatting reduces fatigue.

Reading whole pages in readers while firing on mp3 podcasts lets persons become more efficient.

Not leveraging the latest technological functioning defeats the purpose of computer automation, don't you think?

Still seeing HTML pages as expression of technological achievement hampers the mind from seeing the bigger picture -- content pages. It's like the difference between successive generations of persons hauling stuff on boards dragging behind animals and then one day seeing more advanced men from another village with wheels on their carts!

One man's content pages can become the ad hoc section to someone else's "on-the-fly" technology-focused multimedia magazine through his content reader ("feed reader").

... more ...

Johnny Reb
22-Nov-2009 23:53:43
... continued from above ...

You ought to take this uncomfortable, cognitive dissonance triggering experience about RSS Feeds as a metaphor for learning about why your REBOL product has not enjoyed massive adoption, however brilliant it is as expression of a software computer and language.

Products like Adobe AIR; widgets in Opera, widgets from Yahoo!, Google and the like; aren't superior to REBOL from a technological standpoint.

Yet, in the end, all of these bloated competitors clown stomp REBOL because their products can do in thoroughgoing superior way what REBOL has yet to do, present data in a visually appealing way. If you doubt this claim, you need only experience TweetDeck, which turns Twitter into a visually appealing, group communication amusement park, for free!

We're human, we're visual. Are brains have been wired for visually appealing stimuli.

In the past, you've asked for opinions on "how do we market REBOL" and a nothing has changed from RT. So an outsider must conclude that it's an internal mindset problem, that the persons of RT are too close to the thing itself and lack fully knowing the key aspect of marketing -- human nature.

The biggest failing of those behind RT is not knowing that REBOL is in the RIA market. And because those behind RT seem unaware to this truth, they've dropped the ball and put their energies in the wrong efforts.

Look at Adobe AIR. AIR includes WebKit for HTML/Javascript content and a Flash runtime for Flash content. Note well, these technological features exist for CONTENT DISPLAY and interaction and do not exist for technological achievement in themselves. Yet, the bloated, kludgy AIR has nothing on the beauty that is REBOL.

Simply by seeing YouTube and the Flip video camera, the right-minded man at once sees the world moving rapidly toward user-created content dominated by audio-video streaming.

RT needs to get up-to-speed with free to the public, ready-made script libraries for authentication to Twitter, Facebook and other major social media. REBOL needs a way to render audio-video content beautifully.

RT must make R3 so that if someone can't write even an Opera widget, they can write still a full-blown audio-video R3 RIA widget, gadget, program, or whatever.

Merely promising these things by saying with the new R3 model, others could undertake these things, is not the same as delivering on what should have been available for free with REBOL five-to-six years ago, out-of-the-box.

As long as those behind RT keep up the game that two REBOLs exist, one for creating simple tasks by novices and another for "gurus", REBOL shall continue to languish.

Where are those behind RT taking REBOL? Right now, hardly can those behind RT call REBOL the rebel. In truth, it's more like the arrogant "always had potential but never realized it" step-child of the Internet.

Complaining about RSS feeds proves to be fruitful, indeed.

23-Nov-2009 0:39:03
Johny Reb - albeit it is not easy to listen to the facts (this is usual reaction), I have to say that I have to agree to most if not all of your points.

It is better to accept bitter facts, because when you accept something is wrong, you can take some actions.

RT's bigger plan, AFAIK, is to address those deployment/marketing aspects too. It is just that before you propagate how cool product you have and how you integrate to outer world, you actually have to have the product itself and integration work done too ...

23-Nov-2009 2:20:19
Pass the salt... :P



23-Nov-2009 11:45:16
The RSS data appears as a clump to me too... I'm using Live Mail to sync my feeds and all the text appears as one large paragraph. Fixing the newlines would be enough for me.
30-Nov-2009 10:01:40
Yes, this is one of the few feeds that I absolutely *have* to come to the site to read. Using Google Reader, I see a big, blurry, blob of text.

To see what the feed could be, compare the feeds from Full or partial content (I prefer full), with a comment count for each item.

Johnny Reb, most of the AIR-powered products I have seen are Twitter clients. After a brief honeymoon, people abandon them because AIR consumes nearly 100% of system resources. We *do* want ease of integration with other software, but not at the expense of some zillion megabyte download and extreme RAM / CPU usage. I honestly think that the reason Rebol hasn't caught on is because it isn't made or endorsed by Microsoft, Sun/Oracle, Apple, or Adobe.

Carl Sassenrath
1-Jan-2010 20:56:58
The RSS feed has been updated and should break at lines now. Also, we've added a guid tag to help keep the feed structured in a few readers that get confused.

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