RSS technology, the final-take encore

Last week we claimed was the final week of covering RSS - we fibbed. We have a couple of other items to cover that, we think you will agree, are worth extending this series for.

So first up is something we left out of our discussion of NewsGator: When you are on a Web page and there's an RSS feed that you'd like to subscribe to, right click on it, and you'll find "Subscribe in NewsGator" in the context menu.

The only catch is that the menu item calls a script, and anti-virus programs are likely to complain that this is suspicious activity so you have to confirm that you want the script to run. An option here is to always let the script run but we, as yet, have no idea to what degree this might compromise overall security. Ho-hum.

Next, we have an add-on: RssExplorer, an Internet Explorer toolbar object that helps you find and subscribe to RSS feeds using your preferred news aggregator. You can select which aggregation tool should handle the feed subscription and have RssExplorer test the feed for validity.

The validity test involves RssExplorer submitting the feed URL to Feed Validator through an HTTP GET request, thus: http://feeds.archive.org/validator/check?url={}, where "{}" should be replaced by the fully qualified URL of an RSS or Atom feed to be checked.

We particularly like the icon they provide for your feeds that have been checked successfully. While most aggregators won't die a horrible death if a feed has invalid syntax, feed owners probably would prefer that their feeds are usable.

Calling all geeks

Which makes us think: It should be fairly easy to create a Perl script that once per day spiders a site, finds all of the RSS feeds and validates them with Feed Validator, sending a status report to the Webmaster.

Anyone want to be the first entrant into the Gearhead Geek Hall of Fame?

As if those last two items weren't enough, we also have another RSS aggregator called Pluck. Yes, Pluck (you in the back, no snickering) from Pluck Corp., but this time it's one that is integrated with Internet Explorer.

Implemented as an Explorer bar object, Pluck makes subscribing to feeds a matter of dragging and dropping to Pluck folders. A number of subscriptions already are set up, and clicking on a feed loads a list of feed items into the top half of the browser's main pane and the content referenced by any selected item into the lower half.

Pluck also includes a system tray icon that will open Pluck in a browser window if you want to get to it quickly. The system tray icon also displays notifications of feed updates (you can turn it off).

But Pluck isn't only an RSS aggregator - it also provides a mechanism for privately or publicly sharing links to Web pages and notes about them along with your favorites lists. There's even a Power Search that searches and filters Google, eBay and Amazon.

If you don't want to add yet another application just for reading news feeds, Pluck might be a good choice for you.

Our final RSS item has an interesting concept that extends the idea of how to publish feeds on a Web site. This method, called JSMsg, is unique, and lets users who don't have any aggregator installed view feeds.

Easy news feeds

As the designer of JSMsg, John Repici of Creativyst Software, explains: "JSMsg is NOT 'yet another RSS flavor.' While RSS is designed to let individuals display news feeds on installed reader software, JSMsg is designed to let Webmasters display news feeds directly on Web pages."

As Repici points out, JSMsg doesn't require server-side scripting, doesn't require a specific browser or operating system, and doesn't require plug-ins.

But for heavily trafficked Web sites, a JSMsg feed has some compelling advantages because the actual feed content is just a file of JavaScript code. This means the file will be cached by browsers and intermediate cache mechanisms based on HTTP 304 status messages and other criteria.

Sound interesting? Sure does, and we'll tell you all about it . . . next week in our really, honestly last column on RSS. And the week after, we will discuss the intricacies of DidTheyReadIt as Backspin threatened last week.

Last words to gearhead@gibbs.com.

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