RSS Now Available
Tuesday, May 13, 2008

It's hard to get excited about a new technology until one actually has a use for it.  RSS has been around for quite a while, and it was more than two years ago that I built in RSS support for my company's product.  It was a pretty hot topic then, and I suppose it still is; but personally, I never had much interest.  I don't read news headlines online, and just didn't have any practical application by which to gain an appreciation.  Now, however, I'm discovering its value.  I've started keeping up with friends and family through their blogs, not to mention Twitter, and realized that RSS would give me a good way to quickly check for new content.  (I also subscribed to xkcd.)  Presently I'm using Firefox's built-in RSS reader, which they call Live Bookmarks.  My only disappointment is that it doesn't aggregate the feeds:  you still have one link per site, which sort of defeats the purpose...though not entirely.  I looked at a couple other plugins and options, such as Sage, Wizz, Google Reader and My Yahoo, but eventually settled for Live Bookmarks.

Given that, naturally I created an RSS feed for my own site.  Creating the RSS output was easy; after all, I'd done it once before for work.  But for some reason, it wasn't loading properly in Firefox.  I couldn't figure out why, and it was very frustrating!  While I was exploring Sage, the tool at least did me the favor of notifying me of an XML parsing error.  Now, I had already gone back through the content and replaced all <br> tags with <br />, and added closing slashes to my image tags, but something was still amiss.  After some investigation, I found that it was an encoding issue.  I generally use non-breaking spaces between sentences, and also use other HTML-encoded characters.  The problem with that is that the XML document is UTF-8 encoded, which blows up when it sees &nbsp;.  This had to be replaced with &#160;.  Likewise, &eacute; had to be replaced with &#233;, and &amp; with &#38;.  It's much less intuitive, but I guess it's necessary.  Fortunately, I did find a chart that gives the UTF-8 encodings for special characters.

Also, I found out how to make the browser automatically detect that an RSS feed is available.  You just include a link tag in the header, like so:

<link rel="alternate"
     type="application/rss+xml" 
     title="The Carolingian Realm" 
     href="http://www.carolingianrealm.info/rss.php" />

Then browsers like Firefox will display a little RSS icon in the location toolbar, letting you subscribe to the feed.

Well!  I don't know if an RSS feed of my site will benefit anyone, but I'm glad to make it available.  Enjoy.

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The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
— Psalm 34:18