Wednesday, November 3, 2010

WotW: Feed me... RSS and Feedburner

Hi again! So happy to have you here today for this segment of Wednesdays on the Web. Since, to me, November is all about food, I thought it would be appropriate to designate November as Feed Me month here on WotW. Because I'm awesome like that.

So, today we'll start off with some of the basics: understanding RSS feeds and using a custom feed manager like Feedburner.

RSS makes it Really Simple

You've likely seen invitations to subscribe to a site or blog's RSS feed -- so what does that mean? RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication (finally, an acronym that makes sense!), and a feed is a simple publication of posts from your blog or another site. Feeds are most commonly represented by that little orange square icon up above.

A feed is a specialized type of web document that includes either full or partial text of your blog posts (depending on your settings in the Site Feed section of your Blogger settings) and information such as publish date and author. Other sites with frequently updated content, such as news from CNN, photos on Flickr or bookmarks in Delicious, also provide feeds.

Subscribing to a feed allows the readers of your blog to quickly and easily see the updates from your blog and any of the other blogs they subscribe to. They (and you) can subscribe to feeds either by email or, more commonly, by using a a feed reader (sometimes called a feed aggregator). A feed reader shows you all of the updates from all of your subscriptions in one place. This allows you to have all of the updates of your online interests (blogs, news, photos, etc) collected in one place, saving you the time and energy of having to actually visit each blog, news article, or photo stream to see if any new content has been published.

Google Reader is the most commonly used feed reader, and most other popular feed readers are, in one way or another, based on Google Reader. We'll talk more about feed readers and feed subscriptions in another post -- today we're focusing on publishing your feed.

A burned feed -- don't worry, it's still edible!
Blogger and most other blogging services have a basic feed automatically built in, so you don’t have to worry about writing your own feed for your blog. However, you can use an external feed manager, such as Feedburner, to "burn" your feed -- giving your feed (not your blog) a new address and giving you more control of your blog's feed as well as stats about your subscribers (so you can get to know more about your ever-important readers like we've talked about before).

Powered by FeedBurnerFeedburner is a Google service, so it's easy to use with your Google-powered Blogger blog. I just burned my feed at Feedburner yesterday, and it's SO easy. If you're interested in subscriber stats, I'd recommend Feedburner (and there are loads of other great feed managers out there as well). Blogger and Feedburner work together to automatically direct subscribers from your regular Blogger feed to the new Feedburner feed (no lost subscribers), which was a big concern for me.

Here's what you do to get started with Feedburner, if you're interested:

1. Go to and log in with your Google account.
2. Type your blog address in the field to "Burn a feed right this instant" and click Next.
3. Select which feed source to use. Blogger users will have two feeds at that address because Blogger automatically sets up an Atom feed and an RSS feed. (Atom and RSS are just two different feed languages.) I chose to burn the Atom feed because I thought that was probably the feed that most of my subscribers used. Looking at my stats, I'm pretty certain I chose correctly, but you can choose whichever you feel better about.
4. Enter the feed title and your custom feed address and click Next. You'll probably want to use your blog title for both -- my feed title is just Lu and my custom feed address is justLu (meaning my full feed address is
5. Your feed is set up! Click Next to select some additional Feedburner Stats services. When you've selected the services you're interested in (I selected all of them except for Item enclosure downloads), click Next.
6. On the next screen, click Redirect your Blogger feed to your Feedburner feed. Scroll down and follow the few short steps under the heading Tracking 100% of your feed traffic to automatically redirect your Blogger feed subscribers to your Feedburner feed. The redirection won't affect their subscription, but you'll be able to access stats about those subscribers and how they are interacting with your feed and blog -- clicking on links, etc. 

And you have now burned your first feed!

To publicize your feed and make it easier for your readers to subscribe, you might want to add a link, called a chicklet link, to your blog's header or sidebar. In Feedburner, click the Publicize tab and then select Chicklet Chooser from the menu on the left. You can choose a standard RSS icon that will work for any feed reader your subscribers use or an icon and link that is specific to a certain feed reader. Just select which icon you want and then scroll down, copy the HTML in the box, and paste it into an HTML/Javascript widget or blog post.

If you think you might ever decide to stop using Feedburner, you'll want to change the link in the copied HTML back to your original Blogger feed, since that feed will automatically redirect to your Feedburner feed. I know, it sounds dumb to set up a Feedburner feed and then not have people subscribe to that feed, but the people at Feedburner themselves recommend it if you think you might ever NOT want to use Feedburner in the future. If your subscribers all subscribe to your original Blogger feed (that is then auto-forwarded to your new Feedburner feed), you can delete your Feedburner feed at any time and not lose subscribers. It's a convoluted logic, yes, but it's good to know your options.

To publicize your regular Blogger feed instead of your new Feedburner feed (if you choose to), replace the Feedburner feed address ( section of your chicklet link code with your original feed address ( You can see both your Feedburner feed address and your original feed address by clicking on your feed title in Feedburner and then clicking on Edit Feed Details. (Don't actually edit the details there, though --  just use them for reference to know what addresses you're inserting/replacing in your link.)

For example, this is the code that Feedburner gives me to publicize using a standard RSS icon:
<p><a href="" rel="alternate" type="application/rss xml"><img src="" alt="" style="vertical-align:middle;border:0"/></a>&nbsp;<a href="" rel="alternate" type="application/rss xml">Subscribe in a reader</a></p>
To direct subscribers to the original Blogger feed, I change the orange text (my Feedburner feed address) to my original Blogger feed address ( so that the code I use on my site in my sidebar widget looks like this:
<p><a href="" rel="alternate" type="application/rss xml"><img src="" alt="" style="vertical-align:middle;border:0"/></a>&nbsp;<a href="" rel="alternate" type="application/rss xml">Subscribe in a reader</a></p>
And I won't lose any subscribers in the future if I decide to no longer use Feedburner (which doesn't look likely because I LOVE the stats after just one day).

To allow readers to subscribe by email, just click on Email Subscriptions (under the Publicize tab) and copy and paste either the Subscription Form Code (to have the form right on your blog) or the Subscription Link Code (to have a link to the form). Paste that code in an HTML/Javascript widget (or select Use as a Widget in Blogger and click Go). You won't need to replace any links here.

So, are you stuffed-full from your meal of RSS and Feedburner? What began as an appetizer became a three-course meal... with seconds. Let me know if you have any questions... once you wake up from your post-feed tryptophan-induced nap. :)

On the menu next week: A feed reader fairy tale, Goldilu and the Three Feed Readers.

Lu (or Lorene if you prefer) is the mom of one squirmy boy and the wife of a singing and dancing elementary teacher. She is the proud author of this weekly Wednesdays on the Web (WotW) segment here on Housewife Eclectic and spends the other days of the week blogging about crafts and whatever else comes up at just Lu.

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