RSS Standard and the Foundations of Blogging

Laying the Standards for a Blogging Renaissance

With the potential demise of social media, does this offer a possible rebirth of blogging communities and the standards they are built upon?


There is something wrong with social media. Responding to John Lancester’s article in the London Review of Books, Alan Levine suggests that the only response is to exit Facebook. For Duckduckgo, the issue is the 75% of the top sites incorporate Google trackers. Nicholas Carr heralds a new era where we will depend on third-party security support, an era where even thinking is automated. Writing about the disempowering nature of Twitter, Kris Shaffer argues that the answer is not simply moving to Mastadon.

For some the answer is about going ‘old school’, a blogging Renaissance. Oddly, there seems to be a push in some communities for subscribers and email newsletters. This is done by adding sign ups that pop out of posts (even if you have already signed up). If we are to truly have a rebirth though then the technology that I think we need to reinvest in is RSS.

Short for Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary, RSS is a standard that allows users to receive updates to content without the need to manually check or be in fear of missing something due to an inconspicuous algorithm working in the background. As David Nield explains,

One of the main reasons RSS is so beloved of news gatherers is that it catches everything a site publishes — not just the articles that have proved popular with other users, not just the articles from today, not just the articles that happened to be tweeted out while you were actually staring at Twitter. Everything.

Usually this feed is built from the web address. If not shown on the site, tools like the Connected Courses Magic Box can be used to capture it. Some platforms, such as WordPress, also allow you to create a custom feed based on a particular tag or category. You do this by selecting the particular tag or category and adding ‘/feed’ to the end of the URL. Useful if wanting to follow just a particular topic. Although feeds themeselves can be adjusted, this is done in the backend.

To sort through ‘everything’, you use a news aggregator, such as Feedly, Digg Reader or Tiny Tiny RSS. These applications allow you to collect a number of feeds in the one place. These feeds are stored as an OPML file, a format designed to exchange outline-structured information.

As a side note, these applications each have their own features and affordances. For example, Feedly now restricts new users to 50 feeds before asking for payment.

There are a number of ways to develop and edit an OPML file. You can use an OPML generator to build an outline or use an editor to refine a pre-existing list shared by somebody else. Something useful when downloading the public links from a WordPress site. You do this by adding ‘/wp-links-opml.php’ to the end of the URL.


I am not sure whether social media will go away, but with the questions being asked of it at the moment, maybe it is time for a second coming of blogs, a possible rewilding of edtech. The reality is that technology is always changing and blogging is no different. Whatever the future is, standards such as RSS and OPML will surely play there part. So what about you? Do you have any other alternatives to social media and the challenges of our time? As always, comments welcome.


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Aaron Davis

I am an Australian educator supporting schools with the integration of technology and pedagogical innovation. I have an interest in how together we can work to make a better world.

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Laying the Standards for a Blogging Renaissance by Aaron Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

12 thoughts on “Laying the Standards for a Blogging Renaissance

  1. Thanks, Aaron.
    While I don’t see Social Media going away, like many in our PLN, we look for ways to filter out the noise. George Siemens, a leader in the area of socially networked learning, says networked information lacks a “center”. The result can be fragmentation of information, confusion. The solution, according to Siemens, is people use strategies and digital tools to create coherent centers of information. RSS feeds, as you aptly describe, are excellent tools for creating coherent centers of networked information. More detail and links here; https://goo.gl/CkLHNy
    Bob

    1. Thank you so much for the comment Bob.

      Sometimes I go to post and wonder if I should or need to. However, then I get comments which uncover something and push my thinking and I know it is all worth it.

      I particularly liked your questions:

      So, do learners need tools like learning management systems, digital portfolios, wikis, and blogs? Do these tools help create coherence from fragmentation and complexity? Do these tools provide opportunities for learners to create and contribute transparently to social learning centers? Because of social-technical capabilities knowledge can now exist outside of our heads, but reside within the centers of our network. The line between teacher and learner is becoming blurred. Technology provides the opportunity for interdependence, and informational coherence, for the modern learner.

      This is something that I touched upon a few years ago. I have never quite got there though. Along with self-determined learning, I have not really seen many students who have taken up this opportunity, but maybe it is because it is in spaces where I am not.

  2. Laying the Standards for a Blogging Renaissance by Aaron Davis (Read Write Respond)

    With the potential demise of social media, does this offer a possible rebirth of blogging communities and the standards they are built upon?

    Aaron, some excellent thoughts and pointers.
    A lot of your post also reminds me of Bryan Alexander’s relatively recent post I defy the world and to go back to RSS.
    I completely get the concept of what you’re getting at with harkening back to the halcyon days of RSS. I certainly love, use, and rely on it heavily both for consumption as well as production. Of course there’s also still the competing standard of Atom still powering large parts of the web (including GNU Social networks like Mastodon). But almost no one looks back fondly on the feed format wars…
    I think that while many are looking back on the “good old days” of the web, that we not forget the difficult and fraught history that has gotten us to where we are. We should learn from the mistakes made during the feed format wars and try to simplify things to not only move back, but to move forward at the same time.
    Today, the easier pared-down standards that are better and simpler than either of these old and and difficult specs is simply adding Microformat classes to HTML (aka P.O.S.H) to create feeds. Unless one is relying on pre-existing infrastructure like WordPress, building and maintaining RSS feed infrastructure can be difficult at best, and updates almost never occur, particularly for specifications that support new social media related feeds including replies, likes, favorites, reposts, etc. The nice part is that if one knows how to write basic html, then one can create a simple feed by hand without having to learn the mark up or specifics of RSS. Most modern feed readers (except perhaps Feedly) support these new h-feeds as they’re known. Interestingly, some CMSes like WordPress support Microformats as part of their core functionality, though in WordPress’ case they only support a subsection of Microformats v1 instead of the more modern v2.
    For those like you who are looking both backward and simultaneously forward there’s a nice chart of “Lost Infractructure” on the IndieWeb wiki which was created following a post by Anil Dash entitled The Lost Infrastructure of Social Media. Hopefully we can take back a lot of the ground the web has lost to social media and refashion it for a better and more flexible future. I’m not looking for just a “hipster-web”, but a new and demonstrably better web.
    The Lost Infrastructure of the Web from the IndieWeb Wiki (CC0)Some of the desire to go back to RSS is built into the problems we’re looking at with respect to algorithmic filtering of our streams (we’re looking at you Facebook.) While algorithms might help to filter out some of the cruft we’re not looking for, we’ve been ceding too much control to third parties like Facebook who have different motivations in presenting us material to read. I’d rather my feeds were closer to the model of fine dining rather than the junk food that the-McDonald’s-of-the-internet Facebook is providing. As I’m reading Cathy O’Neil’s book Weapons of Math Distraction, I’m also reminded that the black box that Facebook’s algorithm is is causing scale and visibility/transparency problems like the Russian ad buys which could have potentially heavily influenced the 2017 election in the United States. The fact that we can’t see or influence the algorithm is both painful and potentially destructive. If I could have access to tweaking a third-party transparent algorithm, I think it would provide me a lot more value.
    As for OPML, it’s amazing what kind of power it has to help one find and subscribe to all sorts of content, particularly when it’s been hand curated and is continually self-dogfooded. One of my favorite tools are readers that allow one to subscribe to the OPML feeds of others, that way if a person adds new feeds to an interesting collection, the changes propagate to everyone following that feed. With this kind of simple technology those who are interested in curating things for particular topics (like the newsletter crowd) or even creating master feeds for class material in a planet-like fashion can easily do so. I can also see some worthwhile uses for this in journalism for newspapers and magazines. As an example, imagine if one could subscribe not only to 100 people writing about #edtech, but to only their bookmarked articles that have the tag edtech (thus filtering out their personal posts, or things not having to do with edtech). I don’t believe that Feedly supports subscribing to OPML (though it does support importing OPML files, which is subtly different), but other readers like Inoreader do.
    I’m hoping to finish up some work on my own available OPML feeds to make subscribing to interesting curated content a bit easier within WordPress (over the built in, but now deprecated link manager functionality.) Since you mentioned it, I tried checking out the OPML file on your blog hoping for something interesting in the #edtech space. Alas… 😉 Perhaps something in the future?
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    Author: Chris Aldrich

    I'm a biomedical and electrical engineer with interests in information theory, complexity, evolution, genetics, signal processing, theoretical mathematics, and big history.

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    1. Thank you Chris for you post. I am not sure where to start. I really liked Bryan’s post and did reference it. I think that one of the things that intrigues me about the supposed ‘halycon’ days is that I was not around then. I was alive, but not active on the open web, well certainly not to the level of the Bloghicans. So I am left with some historical jigsaw. Dash’s post is useful for that. However, the more I dig into your response, the less I feel I really know.

      I had ignored any mention of ATOM and feel that I probably need to go back and understand that a little more. I also need to explore H-feeds. Actually all things microformats to be honest, including H-Cards.

      I too am reading Weapons of Maths Destruction at the moment and am left helpless by the state of things. I am intrigued by the idea of an open (IndieWeb?) algorithm that could be customised by the user. I am not at that stage, yet.

      I am also interested in Inoreader. I had a look and am quite happy with it. Just need to figure out how to get my feed in there. I am thinking that I may need to upgrade?

      So many more rabbit holes to dive into. Forever grateful,

      Aaron.

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