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Creating and Maintaining a Campus RSS Feed

Really Simple Syndication (RSS) files, or "feeds", enable Web publishers to provide a summary of their site in a standard XML format. RSS files can be used to syndicate headlines or updates from your site to other sites that subscribe to your RSS feed. RSS feeds are commonly used to announce news or spotlight items, but they can include links to any content at your site or other sites, including audio files for podcasts.

Campus RSS feeds are used on many Web Central pages and within the UT Direct portal. Examples of RSS feeds include headlines from the Daily Texan and the Office of Public Affairs. See the College and Departments page for an example of what feeds look like for the various colleges at UT.

Before you create your own RSS feed, check the listing of RSS feeds to see if you can contribute your content to an existing feed rather than creating a new one. For example, the Sociology Department might want to contribute to the Liberal Arts feed instead of creating their own separate feed.

The steps described in the following sections assume that you are manually creating and maintaining an RSS file. Many programs, like weblogs, automatically create RSS feeds when you post new content. If the system you are using automatically creates RSS files, you should use that mechanism rather than manually creating and editing an RSS file as described below. The techniques described here are useful for people who need to create RSS feeds without the benefit of a program that creates the RSS files automatically.

Creating an RSS File (without podcasts)

You can use a text editor such as Notepad or BBEdit (do not use MS Word), to create your RSS file. The file must conform to one of the RSS specifications. There are several different RSS specifications, but for most feeds you can use the .91 specification.

When creating your RSS file, be sure that the <?xml version="1.0"?> line is the first line in your RSS file, and that there aren't any blank lines before this line. The second line (the one beginning with rdf or rss) in the file must be all one line, with no return characters in it. It's OK if the line might appear on multiple lines in your browser or editor due to wrapping, just as long as there are no return characters in it.

If you want to add an image to your RSS feed, you can include that information in the <image> tag. Images are optional, and most feeds do not include them, but images should be no larger than 88 pixels wide by 31 pixels tall if they are included.

The example below shows an RSS file. You should change the bold portions of the file to be specific for your site.

<?xml version="1.0"?>
<rdf:RDF xmlns:rdf="http://www.w3.org/1999/02/22-rdf-syntax-ns#"
 xmlns="http://my.netscape.com/rdf/simple/0.91/">
  
<channel>
<title>UT Web Central Spotlights</title>
<link>http://www.utexas.edu/spotlight/</link>
<description>Spotlighted items on Web central and other pages</description>
</channel>
 
<image>
<title>UT Austin</title>
<url>http://www.utexas.edu/graphics/star_with_ut.gif</url>
<link>http://www.utexas.edu/</link>
</image>
  
<item>
<title>New UT Austin Travel Program</title>
<link>http://www.utexas.edu/business/travel/travelchanges.html</link>
<description>The State of Texas and the University have updated
 their travel guidelines to include online options...</description>
</item>
  
<item>
<title>Annual Enrollment 2004</title>
<link>http://www.utexas.edu/admin/ohr/irg/enroll/</link>
<description>Faculty and staff should choose their benefit options
for the upcoming year; changes include new dental and vision options...</description>
</item>
  
</rdf:RDF>

Note: RSS files will not parse correctly if there are errors in the file. The most frequent cause of error is the use of the ampersand (&) character. Because this is a special character, you must use the character code &amp;. For example, if you wanted to write Texas A & M in your channel, you would write Texas A &amp; M.

Creating an RSS file (with podcasts)

If you are creating an RSS file that includes podcasts, you should use the RSS 2.0 format. RSS 2.0 is very similar to RSS .91; however, it uses the enclosure element to publish the audio files in a podcast. There are also many additional optional elements for podcast RSS files described at the Apple Web site.

Once you have created the RSS file, you must then create the audio file and place it on a Web server that is accessible. For more information on creating and posting podcasts, refer to the DIIA podcasting site.

The example below shows an RSS file that supports podcasts. You should change the bold portions of the file to be specific for your site.

<?xml version="1.0"?>
<rss xmlns:itunes="http://www.itunes.com/DTDs/Podcast-1.0.dtd" version="2.0">
  
<channel>
<title>Sample Podcasts</title>
<link>http://www.utexas.edu/learn/rss/podcasts/</link>
<description>Sample podcasts</description>

<!-- image elements are optional --> 
<itunes:image href="/graphics/wordmark-tower-white.gif" />
  
<item>
<title>Sample Podcast 1</title>
<description>A short presentation on Web accessibility</description>
<enclosure url="http://www.utexas.edu/learn/rss/podcasts/accessibility.mp3" type="audio/mp3" />
</item>
  
<item>
<title>Sample Podcast 2</title>
<description>A short talk on bicycle safety</description>
<enclosure url="http://www.utexas.edu/learn/rss/podcasts/monkeybikesafety.m4a" type="audio/m4a" />
</item>

</channel>  
</rss>

Posting Your RSS File

  1. When you are finished creating your RSS file, save it with .rss as the extension. (for example, name the file finearts.rss)

  2. Upload your RSS file to your Web server as "ASCII" or "text."

  3. If you have an RSS feed for a Web site, you can also include a link to that within your Web page via the following tag:
     
    <link rel="alternate" type="application/rss+xml" title="RSS" href="url/to/rss/file">
    
  4. Send the URL of your RSS file to twmaint@www.utexas.edu so it can be "registered" with Web Central and UT Direct.

Once you have posted your RSS feed and registered the file with Web Central and UT Direct, a script on the main Web server fetches all of the feeds five times per day, including yours, and stores them in a central location. From this central location, campus publishers can either include the HTML channel content in their own pages (if they are hosted on www.utexas.edu), or retrieve the RSS file from another campus publisher. A list of registered campus RSS channels is available at https://www.utexas.edu/news/channels/index.cgi.

Maintaining Your RSS File

Providers should commit to updating their channels at least once a month. If you have news stories or events that occur more frequently, you should post them as they become available.

If you don't want to create and update RSS files manully, ITS has created a Web-based RSS entry form to allow publishers to maintain their RSS channel through a Web interface. Contact David Cook (232-3782) for information about this utility.



  Updated 2007 November 28
  Comments to www@www.utexas.edu