What is an RSS description?

Ben Hammersley has taken note of a flock of RSS-related rumblings. Here's some commentary on his commentary on my rumblings.

<fullitem> a sub-element of <item>

<fullitem> does for RSS0.9x what mod_content does for RSS1.0. It allows the entire item text to be included in the feed, including entity-encoded HTML markup.

This, to my mind, is where one possible weakness comes in: allowing formatting HTML markup, such as FONT tags, within an RSS feed does allow feed providers to royally mess up aggregating sites. A misplaced *lt;tr> might break much layout, as would a missized font, and so on. My suggestion is to include an attibute that points to a suggested stylesheet:

<FULLTEXT stylesheet="http://rss.benhammersley.com/site-style.txt">

This fits nicely with the push toward XHTML in ordinary webpages, and seems more elegant. To me at least.

I guess I'd say that <fullitem> does for RSS0.9x what <description> does for RSS0.9x, in a situation where (as is true for my primary feed now), <description> is truncated to less than the entire item.

Sending escaped HTML markup can cause all sorts of trouble, for sure. It's really embarrassing to break other peoples' aggregators with a bum feed, as I've discovered for myself. It'd be wonderful if XHTML writing tools were common. But they're not, and until/unless they become so, I guess the safeguard is the immunological system of blogspace, which quickly punishes offenders.

<blurb> a sub-element of <item>

The blurb element contains a precis of the item, halfway in size between a description and a full text. I would suspect that this might only be used for very long pieces, where the full text is much too full, and the description too high-level.

As I'm using it (in my secondary feed), <blurb> is the truncated item which, in my primary feed, is called <description>.

This is goofy, of course. I did it in part to see if the sky would fall if I added extra tags into my non-modularized feed. (It didn't.)

I'm aiming to offer choice. Rather than always truncating (which disappoints people who like to read whole items in aggregators), or always sending whole items (which disappoints people who like to scan and decide whether to click through), I offer both styles. At the moment, I do this in parallel feeds:

primary feed: <description> = truncated, <fullitem> = nontruncated

secondary feed: <blurb> = truncated, <description> = nontruncated

I'm sure nobody is using either <blurb> or <fullitem>. Personally, I'd rather to combine these functions like so:

<p class="lead">The lead...</p> <p>The rest...</p>

In principle, the algorithm used to truncate (for me: first paragraph; for Eric Snowdeal, the first 500 characters) could be applied within a single instance of the item, without the duplication I've introduced. In practice, I doubt such intra-item coding would work reliably.

I expect that current practice -- either truncating items or not -- will continue. A few people (like me) may bother to offer a choice, in the form of parallel versions. The overhead is no big deal really, XSLT happily transforms one into the other. While aggregators could offer users the choice, within a single feed, of long or short variants of that overloaded thing we call <description>, I doubt this will matter to enough people to get off the ground.

Former URL: http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/2002/05/23.html#a262