Custom RSS Feeds

Posted by Thoughts and Ramblings on Sunday, September 30, 2007

So, lets break down the problem. I use RSS feeds a lot to read the news. For the uninitiated, RSS feeds (which stands for Really Simple Syndication), are a nice way to aggregate multiple sources and see changes from said sources in a convenient manner. Basically, I can see the headlines from many locations in one place and read the articles I want. Sounds good, right?

It would be, but most sites have only a single sentence description for the “article” which means you have to load the full site to realize that, more often than not, the article isn’t something you wanted to read, or so horribly written you wish you hadn’t read it. To make matters worse, some even go as far as to insert ads into the RSS feeds. Often the ad is bigger than the article description itself. Guess that means their articles aren’t good enough to bring traffic to their site so they feel they have to make money by inserting ads into their RSS feeds. This is akin to watching a commercial trying to get you to watch a new television show and inserting an ad in the middle of the commercial.

I finally got annoyed by this, so I decided to do something about it. I am a programmer, so I decided (in all honesty, I took the idea from a friend) to read the real RSS feed, load full articles for the description, and remove the ads. My scripting language of choice for such an action would be PHP, but PHP’s XML support really sucks, so I had to re-learn my perl.

So now, when I read my RSS feeds in NetNewsWire, I see the headline, and when I select the headline, the lower pane has the full article, complete with any pictures, pretty formatting, and zero ads. I am sure these sites hate the fact that I am doing this, but in actuality, it is hard to detect, since my script acts so much like a person browsing the RSS feed.

Moral of the story: These sites could have published useful and clean RSS feeds, but they got greedy and now people like me are rebelling against it. I would not have written my parser if the RSS feeds contained useful summaries, and even more so if the feeds didn’t assault me with ads. Now I am a small minority, but it is only a matter of time till others do the exact same thing, others such as Google with their Google Reader. Let this be a warning to the content produces out there. You get too greedy, and people will not stand for it. We have seen it before, and will see it again.