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Etiquette for RSS Feeds

The arguments continue to rage over the ambiguities in the RSS specifications. But the fact is: RSS is here to stay, and the current defined RSS 2.0 specification is likely going to be as good as it is going to get. Attempts have been made to create "best practice" documents and specification clarifications. We felt it would be helpful to provide general guidelines for those constructing an RSS 2.0 feed. In general, the following are guidelines for constructing an RSS feed. It is good to get into the habit of validating the RSS feed, either with software, or with an online validator.

Here are some general guidelines for creating RSS Feeds:

1. Enclosures

Include only one enclosure per item for maximum compatibility. The RSS 2.0 specification does not clearly state whether multiple enclosures are allowed or not, but most RSS readers will only support a single enclosure. Therefore, it is best to conform to the readers, and only include a single enclosure in each RSS feed item.

2. Date Formats

Date formats can be very tricky; be sure that all dates are properly formatted.

3. Encoding

Encoding is required for certain characters. If you are using software to create the feed, it should handle character encoding for you.

4. HTML

While the specification is not explicit, it is generally a good idea to not use HTML coding within the Channel or Item titles. For maximum feed compatibility, the only place you should use HTML is in the RSS Feed Item Description.

5. GUID

GUID (Global Unique IDentifiers) are not required. However, publishers are encouraged to use a unique string in the GUID field. Many RSS readers look for GUID changes to determine if new items are available in an RSS feed.

6. Images

If you are including an image with the feed, the suggested image size is 88x31 (the maximum allowed size is 144x400). If you are including an image in the RSS feed's Item Description or Enclosure fields, there are no size limitations, but keep in mind that excessively large graphics will negatively impact the amount of time it takes to load the feed.

7. Favicons

Some RSS readers and search engines will display the favicon of the hosting domain beside the listing for an RSS feed. In order for your feed to stand out, be sure that you include a favicon in the root directory of your website's domain.

8. URLs

Use "absolute" URLs for images, websites, and links, instead of "relative" URLs. The intent of RSS is to syndicate content, so the RSS feed may not always be local to the person viewing the feed. As such, the full web path to all images, websites, and links should be used. In other words, do not use " ../imageurl.gif ", but instead use the full URL " http://www.mydomain.com/imageurl.gif " when linking to any content.

9. Titles

Use a meaningful title for the Channel feed and RSS feed Items. Most RSS directories and search engines use the words in the Channel Title and Item Title to classify the RSS feeds.

10. Mime Types

If you are including a file in the enclosure field of an RSS feed, be sure to properly define the "file size" and the "mime type" of the file enclosure. A list of proper mime type formats can be found here - http://www.feedforall.com/mime-types.htm .

11. Auto-Discovery

Include RSS feed "auto-discovery" code in your HTML page header. This will allow certain browsers and RSS feed readers to automatically know that an RSS feed is available for specific content.

Tool to Create AutoDiscovery Code - http://www.feedforall.com/autodiscovery.htm

12. Volume

The number of items contained in a feed is important. Establish a history and expand the feed on a regular basis. Prune the RSS feed if it becomes excessively long; this will help make the RSS feed load faster.

About the Author:
Sharon Housley manages marketing for FeedForAll http://www.feedforall.com software for creating, editing, publishing RSS feeds and podcasts. In addition Sharon manages marketing for RecordForAll http://www.recordforall.com audio recording and editing software.