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Chapter 4. Podcasting Distribution > Creating an RSS feed

Creating an RSS feed

Anyone who has some experience coding in HTML will likely find RSS relatively easy to understand. By comparison, anyone who has never done any HTML coding will likely find RSS a little cryptic despite what the acronym implies.

In this tutorial, I refer to RSS files with regard to podcasts and podcasts alone. RSS feeds can be created for many kinds of information, but for the sake of simplicity and the spirit of this podcasting book, everything I discuss refers to podcasts.


Needed: Web Site

To create an RSS file or feed, you need a Web page with space to store the podcast. That page will need to be able to handle the bandwidth if the podcast becomes successful and thousands of people download it. If you are serious about podcasting, setting up a Web site for your show is a necessity, both as a contact point for your fan base and also as a syndication point for getting your podcasts out on the World Wide Web.

Obtaining a Web site is remarkably easy, and many ISP services supply easy-to-construct online tools for creating a Web page without any knowledge of HTML. Conversely, if you are knowledgeable in the ways of HTML, you might want to create a Web site from scratch. Many design tools—such as GoLive (Adobe), FrontPage (Microsoft), and Dreamweaver (Macromedia)—are decent choices for creating a Web site.

If money is no object, plenty of Web-design houses all over the world are champing at the bit to design Web sites of all kinds. Finally, the boom in podcasting has led to the emergence of several podcast hosting Web sites that enable you to publish your podcast on its own Web site for a fee (see “Web-Site Packagers” later in this chapter).

When your podcast is all set up and the RSS feed is in place, I suggest that you put the RSS and XML icons on your Web site. These two tiny icons tell the world that you have a syndicated podcast feed that can be accessed by a podcatcher program (aggregator).



To begin, I'll explain what an RSS file is: quite simply, a set of tags (instructions) that name, explain, and point to a podcast. In addition, these tags set up parameters for other details, such as how often people can check the feeds and whether to allow a failed download of the podcast to restart. There are other elements of an RSS file, of course, but not to worry; I'll go through them in detail one at a time.

Conventions

The RSS language has certain conventions that you need to be aware of:

  • All tags are closed— enclosed between the characters < and >. The tag <title>, for example, means that all text following this tag will be represented as the title of the podcast.

  • Every instruction that you enter must also be closed. In <title>Bart's Book</title> , for example, <title> means “Start the title here,” with the words Bart's Book being the title; then the </title> tag instructs the program to close the title (Figure 4.2). The forward slash before the tag signifies that this is the end of the instruction. Every instruction must be closed after it is opened. In the sample file, notice that <channel> at the beginning of the file is closed with a </channel> tag at the end of the file.

    Figure 4.2. A breakdown of each element in one line of an RSS file

RSS files can constructed with high-end features that can be fairly complicated when the full range of instructions (tags) and features are implemented. It is not in the scope of this book to explore RSS and XML in depth, so I have kept the process as simple as possible. Therefore, for the purposes of creating a simple RSS feed, the following instructions are all that you need:

<rss version="2.0"> identifies the files as RSS 2.0 files.

<channel> is an instruction that sets up an area where information about the feed goes. This information includes the show title, the Web page's URL, copyright information, and several other factors.

<title> identifies the title text for the show.

<link> identifies the link to the podcast's Web site.

<description> identifies the descriptive text for the show.

<lastBuildDate> identifies the last time the file was altered.

<language> identifies what language the programming is in (English, Spanish, German, and so on).

<copyright> establishes the copyright of the podcast content.

<generator> identifies who created the file.

<webmaster> identifies the Webmaster for the podcast's Web site.

<ttl> means time to live. This value instructs the RSS readers (such as iPodder and HappyFish) how often they can look to see whether new content is available on this feed.

<item> is a podcast feed. It can also be a feed to a text file, video file, or anything else. For purposes of this book, however, it refers to a podcast feed.

<enclosure> links to the actual MP3 file and also establishes the file's length and type.

The instructions such as <channel> are commonly referred to as tags. The proper way to describe them is to call them elements, but because the term tags is ubiquitous, that's what I use here.


Creating the file

This section takes you through the process of creating an RSS file for the purposes of publishing a single podcast. I assume that you have already set up a Web site and that the podcast is already linked on the site.

The first section of the RSS file contains information such as the show's title, the copyright information, the Web site for the show, and the ttl (time to live) value. Following is a step-by-step walkthrough of each line of the RSS file.

Note that the file names and links used in this sample are not real links. They are for demonstration purposes only.


1.
First, the RSS file needs to be identified. The first line of the code identifies the files as an RSS file.

<rss version="2.0">

2.
The next entry is <channel>, which acts as a marker that begins the information about the podcasting feed.

<channel>

3.
The next two lines show the feed (or show) title and the URL of the show's Web site, respectively.

<title>Secrets of Podcasting</title>
<link>
  http://www.peechpitpress.com/secretsofpodcasting/
</link>

4.
Next up is the description text for the show. Note again that the description instruction is started and then closed after the descriptive text.

<description>
  The best podcast about a podcast book in the world!
</description>

5.
The next two lines show the last time the RSS file was edited and establish the language in which the RSS file is written (English, Spanish, and so on).

<lastBuildDate>Mon, 9 May 2005 22:19:41 -0400
  </lastBuildDate>
<language>en-us</language>

6.
The next two lines show copyright information and the identity of the creator of the file.

<copyright>Copyright 2005</copyright>
<generator>Bart</generator>

7.
The next line contains the contact information for the Webmaster of the Web site where the podcast file resides or is hosted.

<webMaster>JerryG@bogusaddress.com</webMaster>

8.
The final line before the nitty-gritty of the actual podcast feed involves something called time to live (ttl). Time to live is important because it tells aggregators (podcast readers) how often they are allowed to check to see whether a new feed is available. I suggest that you set the ttl to at least 60 minutes; otherwise, yourserver could get hammered by people checking every minute. Setting the ttl to 60 minutes ultimately saves bandwidth as well, which usually translates into cash in your pocket.

<ttl>60</ttl>

The next portion of the RSS file deals with the actual podcast feed information, which is classified as an <item>. If you were placing several podcasts in the feed, each podcast would have its own <item> section like this one.

9.
The first line is an <item> line, which signifies a distinct podcast. If there are multiple podcasts in a feed, each one will have a section beginning with <item> and ending with </item>.

<item>

10.
The next line is the title of the podcast. In the case of a weekly or daily podcast, this line would contain the name of the episode.

<title>Secrets of Podcasts Show #1</title>

11.
Now you need to show the link to the actual MP3 file (or other type of audio file). A link is signified with the <link> tag.

<link>http://www.peechpitpress.com/secretsofPC.mp3
  </link>

12.
The next line describes the podcast (or episode).

<description>Learn how to podcast!</description>

13.
Next up are the publication date and time. The date is self explanatory, and it is worth noting that the time is on a 24-hour clock (22:41 = 10:41 p.m.). The -0600 at the end denotes the time zone—in this case, minus six hours from GMT (Greenwich Mean Time). The most important thing to remember with the time zone is to be consistent from feed to feed with whatever time zone you select.

<pubDate>Sat, 7 May 2005 22:41:10 -0600</pubDate>

14.
The next portion is perhaps the most important. This part is called the enclosure, and it is the link that the podcatching software will download. The most important aspect of the enclosure statement is to ensure that the length of the audio file (in this case, an MP3file) is exactly correct. The length is represented in bytes, and if this value is correct, it allows podcatching software to resume an interrupted download, which can help reduce bandwidth in the long run. Last, the type parameter is important because it describes exactly what kind of audio file you are using and, therefore, ensures the proper handling of the MP3 file after it is downloaded by a listener.

<enclosure url=
  " http://www.peechpitpress.com/secretsofPC.mp3"
length="38998016" type="audio/mpeg"/>

15.
That's it. Now that the item is complete, you just need to close out the item, the channel, and the RSS file as follows:

</item>
</channel>
</rss>

The finished file

Following is the complete file, all ready to go. At a glance, the RSS file in this form can be a daunting thing for someone with no experience in HTML coding. However, after you go through it line by line, reading an explanation for each line, it really isn't that bad. In fact, you could use this file as a template for any RSS file meant for publishing a podcast.

<rss version="2.0">
<channel>
  <title>Secrets of Podcasting</title>
  <link>
   http://www.peechpitpress.com/secretsofpodcasting/
   </link>
<description>
  The best podcast about a podcast book in the world!
</description>
<lastBuildDate>Mon, 9 May 2005 22:19:41 -0400
  </lastBuildDate>
<language>en-us</language>
  <copyright>Copyright 2005</copyright>
  <generator>Bart</generator>
  <webMaster>JerryG@bogusaddress.com</webMaster>
  <ttl>60</ttl>
<item>
  <title>Secrets of Podcasts Show #1</title>
  <link>http://www.peechpitpress.com/secretsofPC.mp3
  </link>
  <description>Learn how to podcast!</description>
  <pubDate>Sat, 7 May 2005 22:41:10 -600</pubDate>
  <enclosure url=
    " http://www.peechpitpress.com/secretsofPC.mp3"
  length="38998016" type="audio/mpeg"/>
</item>
</channel>
</rss>


					  

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