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RSS and the Blog

08/20/07 | by Adam | Categories: Technology

Link: http://www.google.ca/reader/view/

While looking through my logs for nimblebrain I noticed that I had a decent number of searches from Google (both .com and .ca domains) that had no associated search queries. Since I wasn't sure on how that worked I did some basic investigation.

One word: RSS.

RSS is a pretty standard syndication method for reading blogs. It's basically a summary of the blog created in XML by the server software which is then read by a remote client. Part of the problem with blogs is that there are so many of them and most -- albeit certainly not all -- are updated frequently. It's basically impossible to keep up with all of them by directly visiting their sites. RSS was therefore created to allow software agents to summarise the content of each blog by date and content and then permit the user to choose what to read and when. It's quite an effective technique although a bit annoying to know that people are skipping past your carefully crafted content to look at another LOLcat reference. For sites with advertising or viewer-paid content like Daring Fireball this can mean problems with income. As nimblebrain is paid for solely by Ritchie we don't have that problem. Besides, no one is insane enough to pay me for this.

Personally, I use a standalone application, NewsFire for OSX, but there are implementations for most operating systems and quite often are integrated into other tools. For example Trillian (a multi-standard Instant Messaging client for Windows) has a plugin designed to throw up little notifications every time a watched blog posts a new message. If you're using Firefox to read this, you'll probably see a little icon in the right of the address bar which looks like a soundwave; that's Firefox letting you know there's an RSS source for this blog.

Anyway, back to the initial paragraph. Google's "Reader" is a decent web-based implementation of an RSS accumulator. Give it an appropriate feed and it'll generate a nice summary of all of the data. Click on the links and it'll send you to the blog with a referrer but no search terms. Mystery solved.

(Well not really. The RSS reference gives a result of "not a query - no params!" but the mystery search gives "no query string found". Subtly different, but different nonetheless. So the mystery continues...)


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