Syndication: Delivering the Web

As a service to our readers this article will explain the way syndication is changing the web and how readers can utilize Overtime Central‘s syndication feeds to stay on top of site updates. I am in no way an expert on this subject; this is just my take on it.

As the web developed and grew to the point where the number of people, businesses and organizations with a web prescence out numbered those who did not it became obvious to many people that keeping track of their favorite sites was an impossible task. As the number of sites they had an interest in grew, their list of bookmarks grew as well. Each site had its own update or publish schedule; some updated regularly and frequently, others on no set schedule or never at all. There was no way to know if the site was updated except to visit it. If you had 100 sites to check this could take a long time. Some pages may be bookmarked within a site as well because you were specifically interested in the information on that page. Then when wanting to access it at a later date you found the page was no longer available due to a site reorganization. You may have been able to find it by searching the site or web or it may be lost to you forever. For these reasons technologies were developed to ease the problems web surfers were having.

Two technologies which work together came about in the last five years to address the permanence and notification problems people were having. First dynamic database driven websites which had started as a way of managing the large amount of content some sites have introduced the idea of permalinks. Permalinks are links to content on your site that will never change. That is as long as your site is running the link will point to that content and never be broken. If someone bookmarks a page today, they should be able to use that bookmark a year and see the same page, perhaps in a different layout or style and with updated content, but the same page just the same. For instance your FAQ page may have been updated with new content, but a link to it should still work even if you have decided to move it’s location in the site hierarchy. Friendly URI‘s have made permalinks even better by making them human readable (and memorable) instead of based on a long identification string. For example, the FAQ page on this site is a friendly URI.

So permalinks reduce the problem of broken links. They are also used in the other technology developed to help people manage their bookmarks and know when sites have been updated. Syndication came about as a way to push information from sites to the readers rather than the reader having to check the site to pull the information off of it. Syndication is simply the producing of content into a special format which can then be read by a reader which understands that content format. Producing these content “streams”, which always have the latest site updates, allows people with a reader to determine if there are any updates to the site and if any of the updates are of interest to them to visit the site. Suddenly the task of checking all the sites you are interested in can be done at a glance instead of by visiting each site (more on syndication readers below).

Both of these technologies allowed blogging (web logging) to explode in the last couple years. The ideas behind personal blogging have now been seen as having great communication aspects for the web and have spread to much more specialized topics than people’s personal lives. While news and portal sites adopted syndication quickly, any site today being redesigned will most likely have a syndication feed. This has changed the way sites communicate, producing sites which are much less static than the past, and instead posting much more current information to the company/site/individual’s site.

Syndication is a general term for the publishing of site content in a known format that can be used by any application capable of reading that format. Currently there are two main syndication formats, RSS and Atom. Most syndication creation software and syndication reader software support the creation of feeds in the various versions of these two formats, however it is up to the site owner to decide if they will offer feeds in multiple formats.

Syndication readers are often called feed readers, RSS readers or news aggregators. The application may publish the syndication stream in a window, on your desktop, the taskbar or anywhere else. Most often reader applications are stand-alone applications or browser applications. Stand-alone applications are a separate application like your web browser that accept site/feed addresses to subscribe to and then display the subscribed feeds in a list showing the number of unread articles for each feed. Selecting a feed will display a post summary or the full post (site’s decision) of the unread articles. You can click on the post permalink to open the full post in the feed reader (if capable) or your browser.

A web-based feed reader does basically the same thing except in the guise of a web application accessed via your browser. You subscribe, view subscribed sites and posts much the same way. The advantage of a web-based feed reader is that your subscription is not tied to your local computer, meaning you can access your subscribed feeds from anywhere using a web browser. Web-based feed readers do lack some of the features stand-alone readers can provide and some stand-alone readers have implemented synchronize features allowing you to move your subscription list among computers.

Some popular stand-alone feed readers are Feed Reader, Feed Demon, Newz Crawler, and NetNewsWire. Some popular web-based feed readers are Bloglines and NewsGator.

You can determine if a feed is available for a site by looking for a RSS, Atom or XML icon or Syndication or Feed links on the home page. If you don’t see one you can still try to add the feed in your feed reader using the main site address, if the feed is in a common location or it is already aware of the feed, it will find it.

Overtime Central started providing feeds with the latest site re-work this spring. At the same time we started to write more general interest posts about sports and pooling. In the future we hope to provide feeds for news for each contest and feeds for your current results/position.

Currently you can subscribe to two feeds at Overtime Central, a post feed and comments feed. Subscribe to the post feed to keep up to date with updates to the site without having to visit each day. Subscribe to the comments feed to keep up to date when someone has commented on a post on this site. If you haven’t tried a feed reader yet, I suggest you do and subscribe to one or both of Overtime Central’s feeds to try it out. Once you get started you will discover the power of syndication on the web when you have all the news, opinions, and daily comics you want at your fingers.

2 Responses to “Syndication: Delivering the Web”

  1. The Leader-Post Says:

    Team Swervin’ Slams Back Into Basement : Madden Let Go

    With only one game remaining in the 2005 season and despite the CFL-imposed moratorium on announcements, Team Swervin’Mervyn has pulled the plug on their Manager/Coach John Madden, firing him early Monday morning. The dismissal came only hours after the club plunged back into last place in the CFL pool. Team owner and President Mervyn Fernadez will act as interim manager for the duration of the season. This is the team’s second termination this year as Jim Fedyk was handed his pink slip earlier in the season.
    “John tried hard, but couldn’t come through when it counted,” suggested Fernadez. The club suffered a dismal 3 point score on Sunday allowing itself to be passed by BigMC. The final weeks for Madden were mired in desperation as he gambled on the possibility of overtime which would have bolstered his score significantly. In the end, it was choosing Toronto and B.C. to win that completed his demise.
    “I took some chances, but I had to,” Madden pleaded as he left the clubhouse. “I’m satisfied with my effort. To me 7th place and 4th or 5th are all the same. You’re still a loser.”
    When asked about his thoughts concerning the eventual pool winner he answered, “You know, as long as it doesn’t go to GreenMonster, I don’t care. Everybody in the league is tired of their antics. If they win, I think I’ll puke.”
    The season wraps up with Sunday’s Grey Cup game. Team S’M’s hoping for a last second hail mary, but the odds are stacked against them due to last week’s off-field problems. Several members of the organization were charged concerning a kidnapping plot in Alberta. They were pulled over by R.C.M.P. on Friday on route to Red Deer. Details about who they were planning to kidnap have not been released. In addition to these problems, the club expects a substantial fine due to ignoring the CFL-imposed moratorium on announcements.

  2. Jon Says:

    You should be a comedian.

    On that topic, have you ever read Jason Kottke at ? He is travelling in sout-east Asia right now, blogging about it. He quit his job this year and has been living off donations from his blog readers. It might be an interesting read for you, or not. Maybe you would consider your own site where you share this amazing wit.

    Don’t worry about Gord. He’s the only one that paid for the contests (for the draft too which I cancelled) and he won’t be getting that money back.

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