The Power of Syndication

A couple of month ago I got an email from an old friend who was just about to move to Mosambique to live there for the next three years. To keep in touch with her friends she set up a web page (good idea). Apparently she was unhappy with the blog providers and instead decided to get out her old HTML toolkit and build a site all by herself (not such a good idea). There she provides some travel information, a photo gallery, a diary and whatnot.

I didn’t realize until a few weeks ago, why not going with a blog in a situation like this is really the wrong way. I’m not saying anything against getting yourself all involved with plain old HTML. I have nothing at all against HTML. In fact, everybody who’s actively trying to figure this out while doing something completely unrelated for a living, I get all proud and protective. However there are actually two things I realized and would like to point out.

First, blog software today is ridiculously flexible. I dig WordPress and am reluctant to move somewhere else (although there are other providers tempting me constantly) because I know how it works and because of that I know that it lets me do nearly everything with the layout. Actually, since the redesign I cut back a bit on individuality and use a lot more standard features now. Just as good. They work, I can still tweak everything with CSS and that’s enough for me.

I’m just guessing that other blog software is equally flexible, if you dare to jump in and spend some time to figure out how it works. And even if it has some limitations, it’s usually good enough to apply your own styles and pictures and you just need to go to CSS Zen Garden to remind yourself of the awesome power of CSS (and leave there ashamed because your site is never ever going to look that good).

But that’s not my main point. My main point has three capital letters: RSS. These days I don’t go to a page to see if there are any updates. I subscribe to the feed and unless the site tells me that there has been an update I assume there’s been no news and I just let it be. And here’s the most important thing: I like that and I really, really don’t want to go back. The days of remembering and actively going to a site and checking for updates are over. Long over.

In general I’d say that if your online diary or whatever you might call it – because it’s no blog, baby – doesn’t provide a decent RSS feed, don’t expect me to care for it. The only reason why I do return to Kathrin’s site is because I personally care for someone I’ve known for nearly twenty years now. I’d still like it better if there was some RSS to help me out there.

On another note, I’ve been nagging about the fact that a series of screencasts recorded at work was sometimes referred to as video podcast. When asked about why I though it wasn’t a podcast I had to think about it for a minute, but then it hit me. No RSS there, either. If I can’t subscribe to it and get updates automatically, it’s no podcast. I even checked that and it turns out that the basic difference between a webcast and podcast (according to our wise buddy Wikipedia) is whether there’s some sort of syndication or not.

(By the way, I wasn’t nagging about the fact that it wasn’t a podcast, I was just nagging because it was referred to as one. Sometimes you don’t really need syndication. On the other site, it doesn’t hurt and it sure as hell comes in handy at times.)