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RSS and Atom in Action 26

Simon P. Chappell writes "We've all seen them, those icons that decorate blogs and websites; sometimes they're just little orange squares with white stripes, while others say RSS or Atom. Many of us have heard of feeds and podcasts and aggregators. What are these things and where did they come from? Well, Dave Johnson, the author of the open source Roller blogging software, is glad you asked and by way of an answer, he's written RSS and Atom in Action." Read the rest of Simon's review.
RSS and Atom in Action
author Dave Johnson
pages 368 (8 page index)
publisher Manning
rating 8 out of 10
reviewer Simon P. Chappell
ISBN 1932394494
summary For blog applications, this book brings the right information at the right time.

This is a book for programmers that want to use blog technology rather than programmers that want to blog. A subtle difference perhaps, but it'll make the world of difference whether this book is useful for you. So if you want to be the next Paul Graham or Steve Yegge, pass over this book and concentrate on your copy of Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. For those of use who have a need for automated information distribution, where a blog or an aggregator or a podcast might make sense as the delivery channel, this book is the right information at the right time.

The book is organized in two parts. The first part is called "Programming the writable web". In it Mr. Johnson covers the "what" of blogging technologies. The first chapter covers the taxonomy of blogging terms and components. The second introduces us to the situations and characters that we'll be following through the rest of the book. Next we learn how to download, setup and run the example software available for the book. Chapter three takes us on a guided tour of the anatomy (Mr. Johnson's words) of blog and wiki servers and how to choose between them for your information distribution needs.

With all that level setting information out of the way, chapter four begins the process of rolling our sleeves up and getting geeky as we look at the RSS and Atom newsfeed formats. Now, we know what they are and what they look like, chapter five takes us through fetching and parsing those newsfeeds. Chapters six and seven show the use of the Windows RSS platform and the ROME newsfeeds utilities respectively. Chapter eight starts our journey to producing rather than just consuming newsfeeds. Chapters nine and ten then address publishing using XML-RPC based APIs and Atom.

Part two of the book addresses "Blog Apps", where a blog application seems to be fairly loosely defined as any application that interacts programmatically with a blog. The eleven chapters are fairly short, with part two totaling only about one third of the whole book. This works well, each chapter is very direct and doesn't waste any time getting into its subject matter. The subjects walk you through creating a group blog via aggregation, searching the blogsphere through services like Technorati, keeping your blog in sync, blogging by email, generating email digests, using a blog to report on software build processes, blogging chatroom conversations, distributing files as podcasts, how to automatically download podcasts, validating newsfeeds and then a whole wrap up chapter on interesting ideas that could be implemented using blog technologies.

When looking at things to like about this book, it doesn't hurt to have a forward written by Simon Phipps, the Chief Open Source Officer at Sun Microsystems and an endorsement from Tim Bray, co-creator of XML and Co-Chair of the IETF Atom Working Group. That got my attention.

The typography and layout of the book are up to the usual excellent standard of the "... in Action" series. Manning are to be commended for their dedication to enforcing the series style in their books, because a well-laid out and typeset book is a pleasure for the reader.

The examples in the book are written in a mix of Java and C#. This is interesting, because previously the majority of books have been dedicated to single platforms. Perhaps, this is a sign that the I.S. world is becoming more comfortable with the increasingly heterogeneous computing environments that we find ourselves surrounded by. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Java and C# share more similarities than differences, if I can say that without triggering visits from the attack lawyers at Sun or Microsoft.

Some of the lead-ins to the technologies use stories of folks at an imaginary company facing problems and overcoming them using blogging technology. You may find this a little too twee for your liking. I don't mind it, suspecting that it helps to give good context to the discussion, but you may not care for it.

Naturally, there is also the danger that the information may be outdated in a few years, but if you're in this industry that's just part of the package. I actually suspect that this book will be useful for quite a while, because while the activity of blogging is changing the world, the technologies behind it seem to be relatively stable at this time.

I like this book and I think that it brings the right information at the right time. If you want to work with blog technology, this book will give you a great deal of help. Now, get out there and publish!"

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RSS and Atom in Action

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  • My only gripe is the binding. The whole thing fell apart in about a month of normal use.
    • by ManRon ( 1012425 )
      I work with Manning. Good to hear you liked to book, but noticed your comment about the bad binding. Very sorry about that! Please send me your shipping info so that I can get another copy sent to you - Printers can make mistakes, but in our experience it is rare when one of our books doesn't hold up well, so we'd really like to determine what the problem was with that binding, If you wouldn't mind we'd very much appreciate it if you'd send us the defective copy so that we can analy
  • by mrkitty ( 584915 ) on Wednesday October 11, 2006 @04:21PM (#16398905) Homepage
  • by esconsult1 ( 203878 ) on Wednesday October 11, 2006 @04:32PM (#16399137) Homepage Journal

    Besides the whole blogging thing, we've used RSS feeds for product data transfer, and on our question/answer site [], members can use RSS to see when they get replies to their questions.

    We've used RSS as a means to distribute various kinds of reports, server log summaries, and a host of other things. Its great using something like NetNewsWire and in the morning seeing the latest backup record out of the servers, just a well as new posts on the site. We've written Ruby scripts to generate RSS files showing traffic over the course of the day and other goodies.

    I think RSS & Atom has been pigeon-holed to a certain extent.

  • The future of RSS is in GeoRSS and the Sensor Web. For an unknown reason to me, /. never had a story specifically on GeoRSS. Here's some stories [] taken from my sig's website...

    First, the after years of work, the GeoRSS version 1.0 was released recently []. Then you can read this excellent article on GeoRSS []. Everybody is jumping on the GeoRSS bandwagon, even Microsoft [] and the huge blogging world [].
  • Many of us have heard of feeds and podcasts and aggregators. What are these things and where did they come from?

    With this being Slashdot I find that line to be rather condescending. Regardless this is a good review but when it comes to 'web technologies' I'd rather get my information from the source: the internet. As Chappell (The reviewer not the comedian) said, "there is also the danger that the information may be outdated in a few years."

    Going a tad off topic here but I'd just like to make an observat

    • I have noticed that book reviews usually don't receive as much attention as other news items. While I don't like to prognosticate perhaps it's a sign of the end of print.
      I think it's more the fact that most /. book "reviews" are of little use, generally amounting to not much more than a regurgitating of the contents page, with a couple of jokes and a concluding "I liked it, now go out and buy it."
  • This book has very little to offer in the way of helping .NET or Java Developers. The first section goes over how blogs work and different ways blogs can be used in a business. It's like he wrote this so you could then show it to your boss to convince him to let you department using blogs internally. This is a book for using ROME, Blogging Roller and the new Windows RSS Platform. There are better .NET code examples at The code in the book is tries to explain how to build a full syndicat
  • What are these things and where did they come from?
    ...and what are they doing in my icebox?!

When I left you, I was but the pupil. Now, I am the master. - Darth Vader