Getting Started With RSSBandit
A beginners guide to RSS feed aggregation.
Phil Haack February 2004
Summary: Outlines the basic steps to getting started with RSSBandit. Also downloadable as a Word document.
So what exactly is a blog? And what does a blog have to do with RSS? And now that you mention it, what is RSS? Slow down there fella.
Blogs have been getting a lot of press lately due to their adoption by various campaigns during this election year. A Blog is simply a weblog, an online diary. Nothing more, Nothing less. For an example of a blog written by a simpleton, visit http://haack.org/.
The reason you read about blogs in Doonesbury is due to the plethora of tools out there that make it very easy to publish every interesting or inane thought in you head to the World Wide Web. A Japanese hip-hopper can boot up a browser and find out what type of meatloaf Sally in Omaha cooked for her family last night. Average citizens can deem themselves journalists and publish un-edited reports of the events near them. This can be very good or bad depending on whether the journalist said something nice about you.
As the presence of blogs proliferates, how do you keep track of them all? One option is to keep a list in and check every one of them each day to see if something new has been published. That hardly seems efficient.
That’s where RSS comes into the picture. If you took the time to visit my blog, you’ll notice a big orange “XML” link in the left hand side. That’s my RSS feed.
RSS is an XML syntax for syndicating content. In English, this means that RSS is used to describe the content that one is publishing. For example, I may write a blog entry like so:
Today I sat in front of the computer all day.
Now if you want to know whether or not you’ve already read this entry, it would be nice to know some information about this specific entry, such as its title, when the entry was made, etc…
RSS is a format for marking up a news item or blog entry with such information and it looks a little something like this (note: not exactly):
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8" ?> <item> <title>My Exciting Day</title> <link>http://haack.org/</link> <description> </description> <date>2004-02-08</date> </item>
Now to the untrained eye, this mark-up is quite unsightly. The actual RSS format is even uglier, and that’s OK because it isn’t intended for the untrained eye. It’s intended to be read by other computers.
“Huh? You mean my computer is interested in reading about Sally’s Meatloaf?”
Not quite. The Japanese hip-hopper is still interested in reading about Sally, but rather than checking in on Sally’s blog every day, he uses an RSS Aggregator (sometimes called an RSS Reader or News Aggregator) to aggregate all the various blogs to which he subscribes. It’s the aggregator that reads the unslightly mark-up and will notify our fearless hip-hopper that Sally’s cooked up another fantastic dish.
For more information about RSS, please see the following URL: http://www.mnot.net/RSS/tutorial/.
So where can you get your hands on such a program? Visit the following link (http://sourceforge.net/project/showfiles.php?group_id=96589). You’ll see a list of the various versions of RSSBandit. In general, select the version with the largest number (usually at the top of the list) and download the installer. For example, at the time of this writing, you would click on the link that says “RssBandit18.104.22.168installer.zip”.
Before you install RssBandit, make sure that you have the Microsoft .NET Framework installed. How? Go to http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com/ and scan for the latest updates. If an option comes up for Microsoft .NET, install it. If not, you may already have the framework.
Rss Bandit Application
Now we get to the whole point of the article. After you’ve downloaded and installed RSSBandit, you should see a screen that looks something like this (results may vary)
On the left is a list of feed subscriptions organized into category folders. On the right is a list of headlines in the top pane. In the bottom right pane is the actual content of a selected headline. RssBandit allows you to customize the layout of the reading pane and headlines list.
One thing to note, the headlines displayed in the list depend on the feed category or feed selected in the list of feed subscriptions. When a category is selected, the headlines for every feed in that category (and sub-category) are displayed. When a single feed is selected, then only the headlines for that feed are displayed.
At the top, you’ll notice a toolbar with multiple buttons. Most of these items are self explanatory, but I’ll delve into them a bit.
Subscribing To Your First Feed
When you install RssBandit, you’ll actually notice that the creators of RssBandit were kind enough to already include a few feeds. Feel free to read them. There are a couple of feeds devoted to RssBandit in there along with Wired News (a favorite of mine) and Slashdot.
But if you’re looking for really good content, it’s time to learn to subscribe to a new feed. Hey! Let’s try mine!
Step 1: Click on “New Feed”. This will bring up a dialog for adding new feeds.
Step 2: Paste the text http://haacked.europe.webmatrixhosting.net/Rss.aspx into the box labelled with “Url”. Afterwards, click the button “Get Title From Feed.” Rss Bandit will look up the title via the web. Finally, select a category and then click “Ok”. You’ve successfully subscribed to an Rss Feed of my blog. If you look in the list of subscribed feeds, you’ll notice a new entry in Bold. The (19) is number of unread items. Go ahead, read them all!
Setting Preferences For A Feed
By default, items within a feed are held for a limited time only. Since I’m producing ground breaking content, you may want to change this setting for my feed. Right click on the feed and click on the properties menu item.
This brings up the “Feed Properties” Dialog box. Please feel free to change the Max. Item Age option to Unlimited. Feed items will never expire with this setting. You can also change the Update Frequency as well. This setting tells RssBandit how often to check the feed for new headlines. Since I’m not producing content every 60 minutes, that is more than a generous setting. For others like Yahoo News, you might even consider checking every half hour.
Discovering New Feeds
So by now you’re probably hooked and in dire need of new feeds. You can visit the following sites to find new and interesting blogs: http://www.2rss.com/ (Directory, Software and Articles about RSS, Portal) http://www.blogarama.com/ (yet another blog directory).
But if you’re like me, most of the feeds you will find will be by word of mouth. Or should I say “word of blog”? You see, most blogs often have what is called a blog roll. Basically it is a list of blogs read by the author of the blog. Also, many blog entries will refer to other blogs.
RssBandit has a very neat feature that will automatically discover RSS Feeds for these blogs. Say you’re reading the latest installment of my riveting blog, and I link to David Winer’s blog. Look up in the toolbar of RssBandit and you may notice that there’s an icon with an orange XML with a #1 in front of it .
Click on it and you’ll see a list of the feeds that RssBandit has recently discovered.
In the screenshot above, you can see that “Scripting News” was discovered. Clicking a discovered feed opens the Add New Feed dialog box with its fields pre-populated with the information needed to subscribe to the feed.
Now that you’re well on your way to RSS bliss, you should spend some time playing around with the various options in RssBandit. I won’t go into every option, but I will discuss a couple that I find useful.
Feed Item Formatting
In the menu bar, select the “Tools” menu and click “Preferences.” That will bring up a dialog box with several tabs. Click on the “Feed Items” tab and you’ll see the following dialog.
This page allows you to change the format for items within the reading pane. By clicking “Use a custom formatter”, you can select various formatters that have been created for RssBandit. My personal favorite is outlook2003-orange. However, have fun trying out the various formats.
Reading Pane Position
RssBandit also allows you to change the position of the reading pane in relation to the list of headlines. Simply select the “View” menu, and click the “Reading Pane Position” sub-menu item. A list of options will appear to the right. Collect them all!
This article attempts to give you an easy to use guide to getting started with RssBandit. Ideally it is clear enough for your techno phobic parents to get started reading your RSS feed using these instructions. Whether or not they understand anything you write about, well that’s another matter.
This article is by no means a thorough document of all of RssBandit’s features. However, I do hope to write more in the future about this wonderful piece of software.
For more information, please check out the following sites.
Dare Obasanjo (http://www.25hoursaday.com/) one of the creators of RssBandit.
RSS Tutorial (http://www.mnot.net/RSS/tutorial/).
RssBandit Home Page (http://www.rssbandit.org)
David Winer’s blog, the creator of RSS (http://www.scripting.com)
Windows Update Website (http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com/)