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RSS or atom feed?

It's not a VHS vs. Beta argument but much like a DVD+RW vs. DVD-RW argument. RSS or atom feed? People who generate syndication feeds have a choice of feed formats. Because of its robust, broader array of opportunities, application developers tending to use Atom, not RSS, as the basis for content syndication.

Both DVD+RW and DVD-RW formats can be interpreted by about 99% of "reader" devices. Nowadays most DVD recorders can burn to both formats as well. The only difference is in the label that's on the media. A few odd compatibility quirks exist (for instance, it would at least seem that the Xbox prefers reading DVD+RW discs to any other DVD format) - but to the "average" user, the formats might as well be identical. And so, Atom and RSS could very well follow the path of DVD+/-RW and become virtually the same if most every tool for both creation and interpretation becomes Bi-Format capable.

You should absolutely continue to read and support RSS of all flavors. In the context of content (or search) syndication, this may mean being able to read all sorts of formats, but only writing the one format that preserves the data the best. And today, that format is Atom.

When Atom emerged as a format intended to rival or replace RSS, CNET described the motivation of its creators as : "Winer's opponents are seeking a new format that would clarify RSS ambiguities, consolidate its multiple versions, expand its capabilities, and fall under the auspices of a traditional standards organization."

Have doubts what to use for your site? RSS or atom feed? The various possible ways Atom 1.0 differs from RSS 2.0 can be jotted down as:-
  1. Required content

    : RSS 2.0 may contain either plain text or escaped HTML as a payload, with no way to indicate which of the two is provided. Atom, on the other hand, provides a mechanism to explicitly and unambiguously label the type of content being provided by the entry, and allows for a broad variety of payload types including plain text, escaped HTML, XHTML, XML, Base64-encoded binary, and references to external content such as documents, video, audio streams, and so forth.

    RSS 2.0 requires feed-level title, link, and description. It does not require that any of the fields of individual items in a feed be present.

    Atom 1.0 requires that both feeds and entries include a title (which may be empty), a unique identifier, and a last-updated timestamp.

  2. Date formats

    : The RSS 2.0 specification relies on the use of RFC 822 formatted timestamps to communicate information about when items in the feed were created and last updated. The Atom working group chose instead to use timestamps formatted according to the rules specified by RFC 3339 (this is a subset of ISO 8601).
  3. Modularity

    : The elements of the RSS vocabulary are not generally reusable in other XML vocabularies. The Atom syntax was specifically designed to allow elements to be reused outside the context of an Atom feed document. For instance, it is not uncommon to find atom:link elements being used within RSS 2.0 feeds.
  1. Full or partial content

    : RSS 2.0 has a <description> element which is commonly used to contain either the full text of an entry or just a synopsis (sometimes in the same feed), and which sometimes is absent. There is no built-in way to signal whether the contents are complete.

    Atom has separate <summary> and <content> elements. The summary is encouraged for accessibility reasons if the content is non-textual (e.g. audio) or non-local (i.e. identified by pointer).

  2. Extraction and aggregation

    : The only recognized form of RSS 2.0 is an <rss> document.

    Atom 1.0 allows standalone Atom Entry documents; these could be transferred using any network protocol, for example [WWW]XMPP. Atom also has support for aggregated feeds, allowing entries to point back to the feed they came from when they are included into other feeds.

  3. Internationalization

    : While the RSS vocabulary has a mechanism to indicate a language for the feed, there is no way to specify a language for individual items or text elements. Atom, on the other hand, uses the standard xml:lang attribute to make it possible to specify a language context for every piece of human readable content in the feed.

    Atom also differs from RSS in that it supports the use of Internationalized Resource Identifiers, which allow links to resources and unique identifiers to contain characters outside the US ASCII character set.

  4. Categories

    : RSS 2.0 categories have two parts: label and domain.

    Atom 1.0 categories have three, with the addition of optional human-readable title.

What is a feed?


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