Table of Contents

How to Create an RSS Feed for Your Blog — 1 — Why?

If you have a blog or run a website that posts content regularly, then you should be syndicating your posts through an RSS feed. If you’re not using a platform such as Wordpress or Write.as which create them for you, then you’ll probably have to find a tool to do it or do it yourself. For this blog, I create all of the RSS feed entries myself (though I have written a script that does it for me when I publish a new blog post). This is the first post in a series of posts which will cover the hows and whys of creating your own RSS feed.

Background

Version 1.0 of RSS was released in December, 2000 and quickly grew in popularity in tandem with the rest of the Internet. In 2002, RSS 2.0 was released and has been the version in use for nearly two decades now. Atom feeds were created as a competitor to RSS which supposedly has several advantages, but RSS 2.0 has remained the dominant format on the Web thanks to its hand in making podcasts possible. You can read more about Atom feeds or RSS feeds on Wikipedia.

In recent times, many people have forgotten about RSS feeds as the Web has moved away from a collection of individual sites onto conglomerate platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. RSS feeds are great though; they’re an easy way to improve your website and one of the cornerstone technologies of the independent Internet. Here are several really important reasons why you should have an RSS feed for your site:

  1. Accessibility
  2. Ease of Use
  3. Privacy and Security
  4. Efficiency
  5. Increasing Readership

Accessibility

The number one reason why you should have an RSS feed for your website is because of accessibility. One of the advantages to using an RSS feed reader to read the posted content on a website is that users can use whichever feed reader program they wish and configure it however they wish. Although your website should already be following the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines), providing an RSS feed would allow, for example, someone who uses a screen reader to cut away all of the rest of the stuff on a website and focus on the content or someone with poor eyesight to use a client with super high contrast—even higher than what you may already have on your site.

Ease of Use

For some, an RSS feed reader is easier to use and fits better into their workflow than a Web browser. Nowadays, Web browsers are slow, bloated, privacy-invading platforms which can be difficult to run for those with older hardware (third-world countries are a thing). RSS feeds are just a single file which is much easier for those on weaker hardware to work with.

For someone like me, who tends to spend most of his time on the command line or in text-based interfaces, a Web browser breaks from the keyboard-driven environment that I love and, on top of that, checking every site manually is tedious. Using a command-line RSS feed reader allows me to read articles and updates from people without disturbing my workflow. I can also set up my reader to display content just the way I like it (for me that’s a large font with a screen width of 72 characters).

Privacy and Security

Unlike having someone sign up for your mailing list, using an RSS feed allows someone to periodically download the feed and read it in their feed reader without the bother of any other Web-related technologies like HTML, Javascript or cookies. This means that the user doesn’t have to worry about being tracked by whatever invasive analytics platform you might be running on your site and you can avoid having to put the work in to make sure that you are securely storing and handling users’ contact information because there’s no contact information to store.

It’s a win-win for both you and the user. Also, stop spying on your users.

Efficiency

Viewing a website is expensive. Not necessarily in terms of money, but in terms of its environmental impact. Every byte that is sent over the Internet contributes to global warming. If a user can check for and read new posts on your website by downloading a simple, easily cacheable file, you can not only reduce the environmental impact your site has on the planet, but also potentially reduce monetary costs if you pay for the amount of bandwidth your site uses.

Increasing Readership

You might be surprised to hear this, but there are millions of people still using RSS every day. Nowadays it’s mostly through apps like Feedly, but the underlying technology hasn’t changed. All of the above reasons to have an RSS feed culminate in your site being more convenient for your readers to read. The more convenience and options you provide, the more people you will attract to your platform. If the only option you have is an email newsletter, you might be driving away hundreds or thousands of people who don’t want to sign up for yet another newsletter or are privacy-conscious. Not to mention, nobody wants to have to check every single site they like manually every day for updates.

Conclusion

I hope that’s convinced you that you should have an RSS feed for your site. As you’ll see in the upcoming posts, it’s not even that difficult to do.

In the next post, I’ll go over the basic structure that your feed should have as well as some of the content posting decisions you will have to make. In the post following that, I’ll talk about automating updates to your feeds whenever you publish a new blog post.

This is my forty-eighth post for the #100DaysToOffload challenge. You can learn more about this challenge over at https://100daystooffload.com.