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Niall Kennedy wants to talk about data that can be delivered over syndication standards like RSS and Atom. His point is that feeds are not just for blogs. Niall points out a few examples of "data feeds" offered by Gmail, Netflix, and the US Geological Survey. I use the Netflix New Releases feed (although they offer many feeds, this is the only one I have subscribed to) in my own feedreader.

The problem with the Netflix feeds is the same as the problem with other feeds that I've mentioned recently: the feeds are designed *specifically* for news readers and only provide a title and a human readable description. Niall, if you're going to talk about data feeds, then you have to talk about feed extensions. Using syndication extensions allows the feed to contain compartmentalized, machine-readable information. This:

1. Makes it so that feedreader software can more intelligently work with the feed. For example, Nick Bradbury added support into FeedDemon for the MediaRSS extension to show thumbnails of YouTube videos.

2. Enables other applications, besides generic feedreaders, to *act* on data in a feed. For example, Where's Tim and FeedMapper act on georss tags that they find in feeds. Another example, my local RSSBus installation has an OFX (banking) feed that gives me my personal bank account transactions and details. Since this feed includes an rss title and description I can view it in FeedDemon, and since this feed includes ofx:balance, ofx:transamount, and ofx:payee elements I can use it in other applications as well (such as a few line script I have that automatically imports new feed items into an Excel spreadsheet which also serves as a budget).

Let me go back to Netflix, specifically. Netflix offers a "100 New Releases" feed, but the problem is a bunch of the items in the feed are DVDs that I have no desire to see: childrens cartoons, television shows, etc. I might only be interested in the box office hits (regardless of genre). I could easily sort through these myself if they defined their own namespace and specified data about the DVD in the feed. Data like: genre, directory, actors, year of release, rating, etc. If they provided an "id" of some sort in each item, the application that is reading the feed could automatically add it to my rental queue.

Flickr is another example of a great service that is missing just a little something: They did a ton of (great) work to improve their support for geotagging photos. But they forgot something! They forgot to include the geo tags in their RSS feeds!

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Posted on Monday, September 18, 2006 2:25 PM Programming , Software | Back to top

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