How Readers Can Stay Up to Date


RSS has been around since 1999-ish. As far as technologies go, it's one of the simpler ones: it's a standardized XML document. RSS readers are simply applications that occasionally poll the RSS feeds they are "subscribed" to. I know, I was a little let down myself.

At first, anyway.

Beauty in Simplicity

The more I thought about it, though, the more I liked the idea behind RSS. Blogs already make their content available via an http GET. Not a lot of extra effort has to go into providing another endpoint that basically acts as a second index page. There's no "push" technology involved.

Another great advantage is users don't have to sign up for a darned thing. This benefits me in that I don't have to provide any server-side code, and users don't have to give their information to yet another service that could someday be compromised. Win-win!

Third, users can "subscribe to" as many RSS feeds as they'd like. They are only limited by the restrictions enforced by the RSS reader applications they choose.

Finally, RSS feeds can be used in a wide varied of use cases; podcasts, news websites and forums are all obvious candidates for the technology, but really anything that could have updates could have an RSS feed.

The "Technical" Details

Just as RSS is flexible and easy to consume, it is also lightweight and easy to implement. You need a tad bit of boiler plate in the file, but aside from that, the requirements to describe your website are laughably small: The only fields necessary are title, description and link. Additionally, when you add an item to your feed, you need only include either a title or description. Beyond that, you just need to make your feed file accessible via an http GET request, and suddenly you have an RSS feed.

I mean, come on.

This Site's Implementation

Honestly, it'd be easy enough to just create the feed by hand and to add items as I write articles. Since it's such a simple addition, though, I thought it might be fun to add a script to the deploy scripts repo that could update the feed automatically when I publish articles. This allows me to stay in the context of "I'm writing and publishing," abstracting the technical details of "I must also update the RSS feed file."

The two pieces I wrote are an init script that will start you off with a bit of boiler plate and an add item script that takes one html file as an argument and adds it to the feed.

Ok, so that's great if I wanted to type two commands every time I write a new article. Ugh. I totally don't want to do that. If I settle for this solution, I must remember to manually update and publish the feed every time I write something. This extra step makes publishing an article seem like more work than it is, and may subconsciously convince me to hold off on writing a little while longer.

For this reason, I created ryjo.sh which can be used to run arbitrary bash functions. It doesn't do much, but it's meant to be used to run functions you define in your .ryjo.conf file. This way, if you have custom publishing functionality for your static site, you can define functions that turn smaller scripts into your own custom workflow. For example, one of my uses of this static site is a blog, so my .ryjo.conf file looks like this:

publish_article () {
  if add_item_to_rss_feed.sh $1
    publish.sh index.html $1 $RYJO_RSS_FEED_FILE
    echo "There was a problem adding $1 to the rss feed. Publishing canceled."
    exit 1;

Now, instead of typing out:

add_item_to_rss_feed.sh "articles/how-readers-can-stay-up-to-date.html"
publish.sh "feed.rss" "articles/how-readers-can-stay-up-to-date.html"

I only have to type:

ryjo.sh publish_article "articles/how-readers-can-stay-up-to-date.html"

Notice that there is no mention of a feed at all. It's assumed that my loyal readers will be made aware of my article without any extra effort on my part. Sweet.

Just Enough

I really like the addition of an RSS feed; it provides a lot of functionality with very little effort and very little code. Readers can now get updates about my site in a way they're probably already familiar with. Finally, it only requires me to add two new meta tags to each of my blog posts, and I benefit from SEO by adding them anyway. All wins.

Want to subscribe? Go ahead.

- ryjo