RSS Content Syndication

I'm a news junkie. I've always subscribed to a variety of IT magazines, and over the years, it's really helped me to stay abreast of developments. Staying up to date on what's new can take a lot of work, though. There's a lot of information available if you want to hunt it down, but instead, why not have the information come to you?

Many web sites now offer XML-based content syndication that allows you to see headlines as they appear, and link to content if it looks interesting. The syndication techcnology is known as RSS (really simple syndication), and although it’s been around for a while, it’s just now starting to catch on in a big way.

RSS Background

I first saw RSS three years or so ago when I began using PostNuke (see “Whaddy got under the hood?”) as a development portal. Its standard install has always had a link in the page footer that said something about using “backend.php” to syndicate news. I was curious, so I checked it out. It turns out that this page delivered RSS version 0.91 content syndication – headlines from the web site in XML form.

Further investigation showed that there were some primitive tools emerging that would read these feeds. PostNuke, in fact, had (via add-ons) the capability of using these feeds to display a block of headlines from sites like Slashdot and CNet. At that time, there weren’t too many sites offering RSS feeds, and you could expect to do a little hand work if you wanted to consume these feeds.

The history of RSS syndication reads like many web standards – there are a few popular versions and several more abandoned offshoots. The original RSS was introduced as 0.90 by Netscape. A refined version, 0.91, was promoted by UserLand Software, and was widely adopted as the first mainstream RSS format. Several other 0.9x standards were published, but none really usurped 0.91. Finally, a 1.0 release and a 2.0 release are both based on RDF (Resource Description Framework), though 2.0 is by far the more popular. Of this multitude, most feed you’ll find these days will either be 0.91 or 2.0, and most readers can handle either. I’ve included a couple links at the end of this article that you can follow for more background.

RSS Technology

All RSS feeds are XML-structured documents (you can often spot links to RSS feeds on web sites by looking for the [XML] logo). If you take a look at the raw XML, you can see the general idea. Don’t dwell on the XML, though, because in the next section, we’re going to look at applications you can use to read RSS feeds.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="ISO-8859-1" ?>

<!DOCTYPE rss (View Source for full doctype...)>

- <rss version="0.91">

- <channel>



<description>PostNuke Powered Site</description>


- <image>






- <item>

<title>Whaddya got under the hood?</title>



<description>Just in cast you're wondering what makes AppDev go,

it's powered by a Content Management System (CMS)...</description>


- <item>

<title>Tip: building connection strings from scratch</title>



<description>Here's a tip posted by someone on the VB-DATA list.

It's already come in handy ...</description>




RSS Readers / using RSS

There are a number of applications available to read RSS feeds. You can scare up dozens of choices by searching for “RSS reader”. The basic functionality you’re getting is formatting of the XML feed, but a decent reader will allow you to set up a number of feeds and keep track of the items you’ve read.

Here’s a screen shot from SharpReader, my current favorite. One of the nice features about SharpReader is that you can set it up to poll for new stories and notify you when they’re posted with a little IM-like box.

Who’s got feeds?

As I mentioned earlier, there’s a very good chance these days that your favorite web site will have an RSS page. Here are a few popular sites that you may want to monitor to help you stay abreast of development technologies.

Whaddya got under the hood?

Just in cast you're wondering what makes AppDev go, it's powered by a Content Management System (CMS) called PostNuke. I've been using PostNuke for several years now as a development portal. The framework is easy to set up, easy to customize, and easy to administer, and it runs on virtually any hosted server. If you need to set up a web site of any kind, I recommend you take a look -- it's worth a quick eval.

[edit: this post is out of date, but it's interesting as an archival snapshot]

Tip: building connection strings from scratch

Here's a tip posted by someone on the VB-DATA list. It's already come in handy for me once or twice. Click "read more" for details....-----Original Message-----
From: Discussion for Microsoft Visual Basic Data Access
Sent: Monday, August 26, 2002 12:13 PM

Subject: Re: Web Site for OLEDB connection strings

Just to add to the URL that others have posted....

The method I use to get a connectionstring is to create an empty file with the file extension, "UDL"

Then I open the file, which launches the "Data Link properties" dialog I select the Provider I want to use, and al the criteria (servername, etc), then hit OK

Then I open the file in Notepad to find one conenction string..ready for copying and pasting into the source editor/config file/whatever

See also:

Common connection strings

Running the gamut of testing tools

I have been working recently to introduce JUnit and NUnit to my development shop. My findings are pretty interesting. My Java developers jumped all over JUnit, and my .Net developers were substantially less enthusiastic about NUnit.

I've also done some work with NUnit myself, and have found that it's a pretty interesting platform -- in my case not for unit testing as much as for integration and acceptance testing. In fact, I've wondered if "JINtegration" and "NIntegration" can be far behind.

Hire Good People — Not Good Resumes

In my years hiring developers, I've had the chance to see thirty or so people come on board and grow with me in one organization or another. These people have ranged from fresh out of school to seasoned veterans. The single greatest impression I'm left with after all this is that you don't always get the best developers by going after people with years of
experience.There are a lot of pretty standard practices in hiring developers. Recruiting firms make a living out of classifying people and finding fits for them.

Ask yourself how many of these maxims you have relied upon or adhered to in hiring over the year.

* Hire someone with experience in the technology you use.
* Don't get someone fresh out of school unless you can take a great deal of time to train them.
* Pay should increase with experience.
* If you want to build a high-powered team quickly, hire experienced developers.

Now, go back and reflect on how some individual hires have worked out with respect to these guidelines. Here are some of my thoughts.

When it comes to the technology you use, you have to be ready to give a little. I'm not ready to suggest that you hire a Cobol guy for a C++ job, because the gulf is pretty wide there. But if I want a database developer to work in Oracle, and I find a guy who understands SQL Server, I'll consider him pretty strongly, especially if I think he really *understands* SQL Server and isn't just working out of the books.

There's a stigma about getting folks right out of school, and it's
understandable in a lot of cases. After all, when I came out of school, I still didn't know what I wanted to be when I grerw up. 😉 Some people I've met, however, have been damn sharp - straight out of school. I'm not suggesting you let your guard down on this point, but make sure you keep an open mind.

There is also a pretty common practice to just roll over on pay increases with experience. I'm pretty sure that not everyone's experiences are the same as they move through their carreers, yet they seem to all end up the same -- "C++ programmer with 5 years' experience". I like to try to use the interview to tell whether this experience was rich or whether the guy was just sucking up oxygen.

Finally, I want to talk about building a team out of high-powered, experienced developers. It's probably about the worst idea you could have. Get a bunch of "experienced" developers together, and unless you're real lucky, all you'll get is a bunch of infighting. If you want to build a team as quickly as possible, look for good attitudes, because everyone is going to have to learn a ton of stuff as things evolve, and there isn't a lot of room for egos.