Feed syndication beyond blog updates

Many people in the technology world view the world of RSS, RDF, and Atom as a way of outputting blog content and reading the latest information in a feed aggregator. While that simplified view is true, the full world of feed syndication is a bit more complex.

Syndication feeds are extremely popular expressions of structured XML. The popularity of content production and consumption using feeds has resulted in widespread deployment of parsers able to turn something simple such as a title, publication date, and a body of text into an easily displayed message, communicating recent updates and atomic changes in our online world.

Power users might subscribe to hundreds of blogs within an aggregator such as NewsFire or Bloglines but feeds are also used to transfer specific data related to specific applications such as e-mail or a supply chain status.


Gmail logo

Google Mail produces an Atom feed for every user. The feed contains information about the number of unread e-mail messages in the account as well as entries detailing each unread message. An authenticated user can view the message title, body, sender, and send date through data contained in the Atom feed. Google uses Atom 0.3, a deprecated version of the standard, and doesn’t properly namespace their added elements, but that doesn’t stop third party sites such as Netvibes or Gmail desktop notifiers from parsing the feed to display timely information for their users.

Most of Google’s APIs are expressed using Atom or RSS syndication formats. You can access your Google search history or access your Google Calendar data expressed as a feed.


Netflix users can keep track of the latest movie releases, their movie queue, or recommendations using Netflix data expressed as RSS. Netflix members can access this data anywhere and at any time, or other services might build upon the Netflix data.


USGS logo

The United States Geological Survey collects earthquake data from around the world and outputs the data in multiple formats for use by enthusiasts and researchers. The RSS feed includes the time of the earthquake, the epicenter expressed as latitude and longitude, the depth of rupture, and other data. Standard RSS parsers can understand basic data contained in the feed while more advanced readers can comprehend and display detailed information present in namespaced elements.


What commonly updated data do you produce that can be expressed to the world in the form of feed standards? Widely deployed feed parsers are ready to listen, delivering your latest data to interested people and/or devices around the world.