Best way to explain how to find an RSS feed?

Discussion in 'Web Design and Development' started by wordmunger, Jun 13, 2008.

  1. wordmunger macrumors 603

    wordmunger

    Joined:
    Sep 3, 2003
    Location:
    North Carolina
    #1
    I'm working on the instructions for a web site that aggregates blogs. We need to explain to users that they have to enter their RSS feed address in order for our aggregator to work.

    Problem is, not all blogging services make the feed address easy to find. Instead of just providing a link to the feed address, they use "chiclets" that automatically subscribe in Google Reader, Bloglines, etc.

    Does anyone know of a site where people can just enter a URL and get the feed address? I use Bloglines for this, but I'd prefer to reference a site that you don't have to register for.

    Alternately, I suppose if there's an API that would do this automatically so if people just enter their blog url instead of the feed address, our system could automatically convert it, that could work too.

    Thanks in advance for your help!
     
  2. SrWebDeveloper macrumors 68000

    SrWebDeveloper

    Joined:
    Dec 7, 2007
    Location:
    Alexandria, VA, USA
    #2
    Couple of suggestions to add to a help page of your own design:

    Inform users that most modern browsers (latest FF, MSIE, Opera and so on) already search for feeds and display the RSS icon in the address bar which can be clicked on to list the feed information and optionally subscribe.

    This depends on developers correctly adding the correct HTML into their header, such as:
    HTML:
    <link rel="alternate" type="application/rss+xml" title="My Blog" href="http://www.yourdomain.com/rss.php?w=2" />
    (Don't document the HTML in your help page, that's for YOU to let you know how the search tool works under the hood)

    Here's a web site that automates the search, i.e. the user merely types in the normal web address (i.e. the site's blog page) to hopefully get a listing of any feed URL's:

    http://blogstreet.com/rssdiscovery.html

    Note: I had problems using it, sometimes a blank page shows, might want to warn your users it's not reliable, but when it works, it's cool.

    The best advice follows:

    Copy all instructions and links from only the middle panel of this page in the bottom of your help page, which I think sums up the many, many ways people can locate the feed URL. The page includes how to use popular aggregator sites to search for feeds, the most common URL prefixes and suffixes based on most common apps like Wordpress, etc.

    Be sure to add somewhere in your help page the user should, if all else fails, look for those famous orange graphic icons commonly used for RSS and XML which help to identify feedlinks on any web page. Click on the graphics and usually the link is displayed (same as the browser do this, my first paragraph above).

    -jim
     
  3. angelwatt Moderator emeritus

    angelwatt

    Joined:
    Aug 16, 2005
    Location:
    USA
    #3
    @SrWebDeveloper
    I think you missed what the OP was getting at. He isn't trying to get them to find just any RSS feed, it's their own RSS feed URL he's trying to explain how to find so it can be submitted to the OP's site. For instance, if you were the owner of MacRumors, how would you know the specific URL for the RSS on the page? For web developers this is a very simple question, but for users that simply use a service like Blogger, they won't know what to look for because the service creates the URL itself.

    Using the little icon in the location bar of the browser only lets you subscribe, it won't let you copy the URL, which is what's needed for the task the OP is talking about. It's kind of a tricky issue to get the less than tech-savvy to find the URL, something perhaps browsers could improve on.
     
  4. SrWebDeveloper macrumors 68000

    SrWebDeveloper

    Joined:
    Dec 7, 2007
    Location:
    Alexandria, VA, USA
    #4
    You clearly missed what I was getting at, with all due respect. he advice given is 100% correct - it covers all the most common possibilities for finding RSS feeds on any site (which includes the user's own site) by breaking it down to 3 essential methods:

    1) The browser address bar - notice I added click to "list the feed information or optionally subscribe" and any of the methods (Google, Bloglines, etc.) either show the feed or have means to do so which aren't that tough to figure out. I didn't say this was the best method, heh. I agree this method is clunky, but -- it's an option! I'll leave it up to the OP if he deems this too complex, he can simply leave it out. But not mentioning it would be bad form on my part.

    2) The web site, the user enters their home page URL obviously - this is a great solution when the damn thing works

    3) Common URL suffixes and so forth based on most common blog/RSS generator scripts - requires no technical skill, just ability to read instructions (if the user doesn't know what generator is being used, two other methods above)

    For those who don't know their own RSS feed, they will be able to figure it out based on 1 of these 3 methods, but there is no SINGLE method that works for all users who are not developers and know such things.

    -jim
     
  5. wordmunger thread starter macrumors 603

    wordmunger

    Joined:
    Sep 3, 2003
    Location:
    North Carolina
    #5
    I'm starting to think this may be a case where it's simply easier to fix the problem than to explain to the users how to fix it. If you're so clueless that you don't know what your RSS feed address is, explaining how to find it is going to be more trouble than it's worth.

    It may be easier for us to deal with the 1-2 issues we have each week than to try to come up with an explanation that newbies can understand.
     
  6. SrWebDeveloper macrumors 68000

    SrWebDeveloper

    Joined:
    Dec 7, 2007
    Location:
    Alexandria, VA, USA
    #6
    Yeah, they're out there.

    I maintain a small government web site and "clueless" users (as you put it) are plentiful, believe me! So we do our best to include help links, suggestions in small font, "what is this?" icons that open windows with advice, links to our FAQ center, etc. as well as prominent "Contact Us" links.

    You might consider a very small "What is this?" type of icon next to the form field where they type in their RSS URL and link a very simplified help page that involves any of the 3 methods but also also includes contact information for support so at least a valid help channel is created for them. I'll leave it up to you to determine the verbiage, if you feel it is worth the effort after all to do so.

    -jim
     

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