RSS Good Practices: Use Descriptive Auto-Discovery Titles

RSS auto-discovery links provide a simple way to let feed applications know when your site offers an RSS feed. Although these links weren’t widely used a couple of years ago, today they’re pretty much common practice. However, what isn’t common practice yet is the use of descriptive titles in auto-discovery links.

This became clear to me after I coded a new “History of Auto-Discovered Feeds” feature for the upcoming FeedDemon 2.5. This feature – which was suggested to me by NewsGator’s Ronnie Gilbertson – lists the feeds which have been discovered during the past two weeks. Non-descriptive auto-discovery titles such as “Atom Feed” and “RSS Feed” are far too common.

I’d like to recommend that feed publishers start using more descriptive titles. It’s simple to do – just change the title attribute of the link element so that it better describes the feed. Here’s an example from my blog:

<link rel="alternate" type="application/rss+xml" title="RSS Feed for Nick Bradbury's blog" href="http://feeds.feedburner.com/NickBradbury" />

This is especially important if your site offers multiple feeds (such as one feed for posts and another for comments), since descriptive titles enable your readers to figure out which feed they want to subscribe to.

PS: It would also be nice if publishers would stop offering the same content in multiple feed formats.

6 thoughts on “RSS Good Practices: Use Descriptive Auto-Discovery Titles

  1. Hi Nick – we have actually found the same thing – so we do a small trick.
    We resolve the Feed URL and get the feed name from the target feed rather than the Title attribute. It is always a better result.
    Hope this helps!
    Cheers,
    Chris

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  2. Thanks for the tip, Chris! In this particular case that probably wouldn’t be practical (too much traffic), but for other auto-discovery situations that would work well.

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  3. This is something we all should do.
    A note on your PS: (stop offering the same content in multiple feed formats)
    My Take:
    I will continue to offer rss and atom feeds. You say it makes it hard for software to present the feeds without duplication. How hard is is for a programmer to compare the feeds on a page and realise they are the same? It’s very, very simple. It’s just laziness on behalf of the programmers not to write one more bit of code. Write a function that compares the contents. Is that really that hard? Then you don’t have to get all worked up and go on a rant.
    People have preferences, they always will, just look at how many trackback-type service links are on blogs these days!! Do you digg?

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  4. PS: I think the second item ( CNN – Top Stories [CNN] ) is the format to use for the links. Just by putting

    • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

    or [atom] in brackets after the feed title also makes it easier to select from the feeds in a browser based on compatability.

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