RSS 1.0 Feed-a-Matic

The decision to start work on a revision to the RSS 1.0 specification got me thinking about how best to approach it. The spec was written four years ago and hasn’t changed since. It’s good to have stable specifications because it means the investment of time that application writers put into implementing the spec isn’t wasted. With this in mind, we need to make sure that we don’t unduly affect existing applications that parse RSS 1.0. Since there isn’t a chart of how every application reads and handles its feeds we need to carry out some empirical testing on RSS 1.0 support.

Feed-a-Matic is a tool that I’ve written to help with this testing. It generates RSS 1.0 feeds based on various settings that you set using the web interface. To test a particular feed configuration, you need to subscribe to the url the Feed-a-Matic produces. Then you can visit the survey page to fill in a report about how your application handled the feed. The survey page is linked from each RSS item too so it should be possible to file a report from the application itself.

I’ve chosen a fairly arbitrary set of configuration settings to start with. You can include/exclude all the major RSS elements, set the number of items and specify that various types of embedded markup can appear within titles and descriptions. I have a number of other settings that I’m considering adding, such as listing the items in the rdf:Seq in the opposite order to the items elements themselves. This should test whether applications are using the rdf:Seq for item ordering or not. If you have any suggestions, add a comment here, or send me an email.

The surveys allow you to fill in the application name and version and the operating system/platform you are running it on. There are some general questions that apply to all the feeds such as a subjective measure of whether the feed was usable in the application, how many items were displayed and in what order. I’ve also included some specific questions that only apply when particular settings are chosen, such as how an item title displays when it contains embedded or escaped markup. Again, I’m canvassing for more questions that you’d like to see asked in the surveys.

The results of the surveys will be available online soon too. Just lack of time is stopping me from writing the code to display them. If you have access to one or more aggregators and have some spare time, please visit the Feed-a-Matic, try some feeds out and report the results. Every little helps and the more information we gather about existing applications, the better informed we will be when we start considering changes to the RSS 1.0 specification.

Updated 6 Oct 2004
Changed URL to Feed-a-Matic to make it slightly shorter.

Permalink: http://blog.iandavis.com/2004/10/rss-1-0-feed-a-matic/


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