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3. News feeds

Where blogs come into their own is when they have associated 'news feeds'. These usually are versions of the blog web pages in an XML file format. XML (see http://www.w3.org/XML) – or the Extensible Markup Language to use its full name – is a very flexible text format which is playing an increasingly important role in the exchange of a wide variety of data on the web and elsewhere.

The XML format used for news feeds is usually RSS – Rich Site Summary or RDF Site Summary – although there are other new formats such as Atom (see http://www.atomenabled.org) that are becoming more widely used. The structure of RSS newsfeeds is so simple that if necessary files can be created using basic text editors, but most modern content management systems used for complex web sites should be able to output a basic XML page that could be picked up and monitored by news feed software. Further detail of the RSS format is available in Cliff 2002.

3.1. Accessing news feeds

For Archaeoblog from the CBA, the Blogger software automatically updates the news feed every time a news item is added. The news feed page format is not easily comprehensible to the human eye.

Figure 3: Screenshot of RSS format newsfeed from Archaeoblog
Screenshot of RSS format newsfeed from Archaeoblog

Fortunately, there is plenty of free software (see http://www.ourpla.net/cgi-bin/pikie.cgi?RssReaders) which can be downloaded and installed on your own computer which will access the newsfeeds for you and open up small windows on your desktop to show the headlines for all new items. Then by clicking on a headline, you will be taken straight to the relevant web page and you don't even need to use a web browser as some newsreader software opens up the link in its own window.

An alternative method of keeping up-to-date with relevant news feeds is through web-based aggregator services, such as that provided by Bloglines (http://www.bloglines.com), which will keep you up-to-date with news via your web browser. The CBA has pulled together all the known archaeology news feeds and aggregated them into a free service via Bloglines http://www.bloglines.com/public/archaeology and this service currently incorporates over 20 news feeds relating specifically to archaeology across the world.

Figure 4: Screenshot of Bloglines service for archaeology feeds
Screenshot of Bloglines service for archaeology feeds

Interestingly, the Bloglines service also allows users to define and save searches for particular keywords so if you want to just keep up-to-date with all news items on 'Stonehenge' (for example) then this is quite possible.

For other news feeds relating to a very wide variety of subjects there is a major directory at http://www.syndic8.com, or see the list of UK academic news feeds at http://rssxpress.ukoln.ac.uk

3.2. Sharing online content

Information from news feeds can also be picked up and incorporated into web pages, allowing anyone to build this material into their own web sites as continually updated 'rolling'news. This is ideal for web portals which can be personalised by users to allow them to view material of direct interest to them, but for which the content is 'harvested' from elsewhere (Miller 2003).

For example, if you wish to include the Archaeoblog news feed in your web page, simply copy and paste the following script into an appropriate place in your html code. Then the headlines on your web page will be automatically updated whenever we add further items to our blog (Figure 5):

<!-- Archaeoblog newsfeed starts -->
<script src="http://rssxpress.ukoln.ac.uk/lite/viewer/?rss=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.britarch.ac.uk%2Farchaeoblog%2Fblogger_rss.xml"></script>
<a href="http://rssxpress.ukoln.ac.uk/lite/viewer/?rss=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.britarch.ac.uk%2Farchaeoblog%2Fblogger_rss.xml">View</a>
<!-- Archaeoblog newsfeed ends -->

Figure 5: Today's 'live' Archaeoblog news feed

This script makes use of a service provided by UKOLN (the United Kingdom Office of Library & Networking) and further details of how to use the script and format the channel are given at http://rssxpress.ukoln.ac.uk/lite/include

An example of how the news feed can be incorporated into web pages can be seen on the web site of Wessex Archaeology http://www.wessexarch.co.uk/news/national/index.html which pulls its national archaeology news directly from the CBA's Archaeoblog news feed. A further example can be seen on the home page of the Archaeology Data Service (http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk) where the latest news links are pulled straight from a news feed.

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© Internet Archaeology URL: http://intarch.ac.uk/journal/issue14/6/feeds.html
Last updated: Wed Feb 18 2004