Rad Geek People's Daily

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RSS is a mess, and other matters of little importance

Here's a pretty old legacy post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 20 years ago, in 2004, on the World Wide Web.

Those of you who pay attention to such things may have noticed that this weblog is syndicated in three different formats: RSS 1.0, RSS 2.0, and Atom 0.3. Those of you who don’t pay attention to such things may very well have no idea what I am talking about; if you want to know more about what syndication is, and why you might find it useful, you can find a gentle introduction to Atom syndication–and links to tools and services that use it–at AtomEnabled.org, and a gentle introduction to RSS syndication–and links to tools and services that use it–at What Is RSS?. Mark Pilgrim sums it up like this: Smart bookmarks that tell you when your favorite sites change. There’s actually a lot more to it than that–as Mark knows, and points out–but that’s far and away the most popular end-user application for syndication at the moment.)

The reason, in any case, that I am bringing this up at all is in order to let you know that I’m deprecating the RSS 1.0 and RSS 2.0 feeds for Geekery Today. Why? Well, there are a variety of reasons. Some of them are purely selfish, having to do with slow performance from MovableType due to the number of indexes it has to update whenever I add or update an entry. But there are good reasons to deprecate RSS quite apart from my own provincial concerns. One of the main ones is that RSS is a big, fat mess, and tools that are based on it face a huge interoperability nightmare in trying to deal with its maddening array of quirks. Atom is also better designed and better suited for use in weblogs. Thus, the RSS feeds are deprecated; if you use them, you’d be much better off switching to the Atom 0.3 feed at your earliest convenience.

Since I am deprecating the RSS feeds rather than discontinuing them, you’ll still be able to use same old URIs that you have in the past. However, I will be dropping the visible links to RSS feeds from the website, and–somewhat more importantly–RSS feeds will no longer be instantaneously updated to reflect new posts. They will be updated eventually; I’ve set up an automated script to rebuild the RSS 1.0 feed once a day, and the RSS 2.0 feed once every other day. I settled on this solution because I didn’t want to tax the server too much, and I figure that RSS 2.0 is about twice as much of a mess as RSS 1.0. The Atom 0.3 feed is still updated instantaneously, so if you want the up-to-the-minute news (and if you want to support open standards and non-lame technology) that will be the best one for you to use.

Another matter of little importance concerns the format in which Geekery Today is written and revised. XHTML is a great output language for documents on the web, but I hate writing in it. Fortunately, there are lots of humane text markup formats for the web; one of the best is John Gruber’s Markdown. I’m now using Markdown, which through a brilliant bit of Web voodoo can plug directly into MovableType, to write more or less all the content on Rad Geek People’s Daily. That doesn’t mean very much to you, since the Markdown is translated into XHTML before you ever see it. But it does have an interesting side effect: you can now use Markdown syntax to comments you post in the Talk Back section, which provides simple, intuitive ways to create *emphasis* (= emphasis), **strong emphasis** (= strong emphasis), [inline links](http://daringfireball.net/projects/markdown/syntax#link) (= inline links), block quotes, ordered lists, unordered lists, and more. (If you know how to write an e-mail, you already know most of what you need to know about Markdown.)

Like all things in this fallen world, the system is not altogether flawless: Markdown is technically designed to be used along with inline XHTML, but you can’t use XHTML in the comments section. (If you try it, I’ve set MovableType to strip the tags out.) Still, nearly anything you could conceivably need to format a comment is available. Also, a couple of unfortunate side effects have fallen out of the way that MovableType formats comment text: (1) if you insert a URI in the text of a comment, it is no longer automatically linked–I had to disable this to keep MovableType from screwing up Markdown link formatting; (2) you can’t use the convenient angle-bracket Markdown <http://www.uri.com> syntax for linking to a URI either, because MovableType mistakes that for an XHTML tag and strips it out. That doesn’t mean that you can’t link anything from your comments; it just means that to do it you’ll have to use one of the explicit link syntaxes to do it.

(If you have a weird urge to experiment with Markdown syntax right now, you can try out the Markdown Dingus.)

–The Management

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