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How to Create RSS Feeds with Dreamweaver using RSS DreamFeeder

Caution: This is a VERY Long Tutorial

There are several places where you'll have to make decisions about how you want to use RSS DreamFeeder. Follow the tutorial through along your line of thinking. If you change your mind later you can always do it again.

This tutorial covers RSS DreamFeeder version 2.5.

What's an RSS feed?

An RSS feed is a tool that provides content from your website to other sites or to tools called aggregators (a specially designed browser for headlines). Other websites (like Google News or Yahoo Finance) collect that content and provide it to their readers -- putting your content in front of a new and often much larger audience. Some individuals may also choose to subscribe to your content with their aggregator (and newer browsers have this feature built in). The aggregator will check the subscribed URL for new content and display it. So your RSS feed is also like a "what's new" page for interested readers. Its a great way to keep people up on what's going on, and its a fantastic tool for electronic permission marketing that completely avoids spam filters.

More technically, an RSS feed is a file within which you can place headlines (or titles) and some piece of content (as large or small as you like) or link to an attachment (like an audio file for podcasts). The file's structure is something called XML, which is kind of like HTML but for data instead of layout. Feeds can be in different formats (RSS or Atom) or different versions of the same format (RSS v 1 or v 2). You might need to pick a specific format for a special use, but for the most part everyone out there supports RSS v 2 or Atom v 1.

Approaching your RSS task

So you've got to get an RSS feed for your website. There are several tools for publishing RSS feeds widely available on the internet, with a range of prices from free on up. The problem with most of the tools is that they require a good bit of work to get your content into the feed you are creating. With some, you have to copy and paste your content into their tool, which is simple for small amounts of content but not for larger websites. With others, you have to have PHP, ASP, or Perl on your webserver and use those tools to rework your content into a feed. In all cases, none of them are designed to integrate directly with the primary tool you use to create the content of your website -- Dreamweaver.

The right solution would let you create new content or take advantage of the content you've already created -- right in Dreamweaver. What you need is a simple direct editing tool for unique custom content integrated with a powerful way to extract and import content from your existing pages. This approach lets you leverage what you know to accomplish the task of creating a feed, without having to learn new tags for RSS and without having to become a CGI expert to program PHP/ASP/Perl. And that is exactly what RSS DreamFeeder does.

When Its Unique

There are times when the content you want to include in your RSS feed is just for the RSS feed. It may be a "Special Deals" feed for your valued customers, or a Podcast for iTunes, or any other situation where you want the content to be available for a special venue or purpose.

There are also times when you just want to be able to edit it yourself, simply and directly.

This is what RSS DreamFeeder's manual mode is for. Create any kind of feed you like (text, podcast, etc.), and when the time comes to choose the source of your content select Manual Entry. Then when your feed is created you can edit its content in the Content tab of the dialog box.

To do these tutorials about creating manual feeds you'll need a few files, so do the first tutorial here and then pick from the other ones.

As a side note, the Content tab is available with all feeds regardless of their mode so you can edit the content of any feed you create, even the automated ones. This gives you extra control and is very useful in a pinch (like when there is a stupid typing error that needs fixing right away).

When Its Repeated from Elsewhere

An RSS feed is all about "what's new" -- the ongoing evolution of content on your website. As you grow your website, adding new content to a page, new pages to content sections or even adding new sections to your site, it is important that you plan for that growth. This is what we call the Maintenance Challenge.

To tackle this challenge you must address who is responsible for new content (you, your staff, departmental staff -- be very specific), what tools will they use to create that new content (Dreamweaver, Contribute, InContext, a database web interface), how will that new content integrate into the site, and especially what elements of that new content need to be repeated in other places (excerpts for the home page, title and blurb in a listing page, etc.). Its this last piece that can be the real killer in any maintenance plan. You have to repeat content to entice people to see that content (and someone will forget to do it at some point) but maintenance is easiest when the content stays in one place.

It is this inherent conflict that makes maintenance very challenging. The more you can automate content repetition the less difficult your maintenance task will be. RSS DreamFeeder has automation built into its core. Once a feed has been configured it can extract new content from your website with the click of a single button. One click and your feed will find the new pages, extract just the content you specify, build the links and reconstruct any underlying content linking so that they are absolute URLs and can be repeated on any website, assemble the new content with XML and store that content within your RSS feed.

Automated feeds are best for collecting content from pages that are formatted the same, from template-based pages, and from websites where there are many pages to manage and many entries to add to the feed on a regular basis. Automated feeds can also be a handy way to convert a single HTML page with multiple entries (like a "What's New" page) into an RSS feed. The key thing to managing an effective automated feed is building on consistency because you'll be configuring the feed to identify content based on where it is or what it looks like (style sheet).

To do these tutorials about creating automated feeds you'll need a few files, so do the first tutorial here and then pick from the other ones.

Basic vs Advanced Feed Settings

The audience of Dreamweaver users is wide and diverse, with some users having a great deal of technical knowledge and others having very little. It is because of this diversity that Dreamweaver's authors have provided basic and advanced interfaces for setting up a website or code and graphical interfaces for manipulating web pages. It is in that same spirit that we embrace both a basic and advanced interface for configuring feeds. The basic interface guides you through the process in a step-by-step manner, while the advanced interface reveals extra controls and options valuable for special scenarios. These two interfaces are really just two different presentations of the same toolkit. Starting with the basic interface and moving to the advanced after a first pass at configuration is often a very useful approach.

A Small Note About Uploading

Remember to upload your files. RSS DreamFeeder builds links to your content within the RSS feed's XML, and just like with HTML, graphics are separate files and must be uploaded to the server independently. Its not generally a big deal with automated feeds because the content is usually there already, but for manual feeds or feeds where the primary content is audio (podcast) or graphical (photocasts) you'll want to be sure the files are uploaded to the server.

Note for Dynamic Content Websites (database-driven websites)

If you have already built your website with a database and you want to use that database-driven content as the source for your RSS feed I applaud your thinking, sadly I have to say that RSS DreamFeeder v 2 doesn't support that. We're working on an update to provide support in this scenario and we plan to deliver it very soon. RSS DreamFeeder v 2 does work with dynamic pages (ASP/JSP/PHP/CFM) but it uses the source code of the page to draw from. This is very useful for websites that are product oriented -- where each product has its own page and the shopping cart services are provided by the dynamic code.

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