electronic brain surgery since 2001

Why RSS?

Yesterday, on Twitter, I asked the folks at PrusaPrinters for RSS Feed support.

Today, a longer thread developed and because Twitter is shit for longer arguments, I decided to sit down and address various things from this thread in a blog post. This is only somewhat specific to PrusaPrinters. It also applies to *your* shiny new service you're providing.

What should have an RSS Feed?

Mikoláš Zuza writes:
Just so I understand it correctly, you would like, for example, an RSS feed for the main Prints page, sorted by newest. So you can use your RSS reader to check the latest uploaded models?

People read “News Feed” and think of news only.

But RSS1) is basically a well known, widely supported format to get aggregated data. Usually sorted by date, but you could also use it to provide some kind of simple API to get a list of “items”.

When your service provides lists of items somewhere, it should provide those same items via RSS, too. If your list has custom filters or options to change the order, provide these options by RSS too.

You have already coded all that is needed, you just need to deliver it in a different format.

Here are a couple of use cases:

You get the idea.

Why not an API instead?

Thomas Sanlederer writes:
If you're going to have RSS, why not just provide an API?

An API is great. In fact, I encourage PrusaPrinters to document and open up their existing GraphQL API.

But an API is not a replacement for RSS. I am subscribed to hundreds of sites and services in my feed reader. I do not want to write and maintain code for each of them. That's the beauty of RSS. It might be an ancient, somewhat flawed standard, but it is a standard. It makes content aggregation easy.

And it makes it easy for laypeople. I am perfectly capable of writing custom code to fetch the data I want from PrusaPrinter's undocumented API. But not everyone is.

What should be in the Feed?

Mikoláš Zuza writes:
We're also kinda scratching our heads about this idea in the Prague office. Using an RSS reader to browse 3D models seems like bending the technology a bit :)

The simplest Feed would just have three things:

  • a title (The name of the print)
  • an URL (The direct link to the print's page on prusaprinters.org)
  • a timestamp (Depending on the context either when the print was released or added to the queried collection)

But for better experience, I would also like to see some item content. It can be HTML with the print description and the main image. I don't expect all the content in the feed. Especially not a full blown 3D viewer. I just want to see if the model is interesting. If it is, I will follow the link.

Of course more meta data could be added to the feed item as additional bonus.

But I thought RSS is dead?

Wilko Vehreke writes:
Aren't RSS feeds dead since major players like Google are mit using it anymore?

RSS has unfortunately become less visible over the last years. But alternatives to Google Reader are alive and doing well.

  • Lots of people swear on Feedly
  • Personally I'm a happy paying user of InoReader
  • There are many others

All of the major blogging and publishing tools still support RSS feeds.

Even major publishers still support RSS feeds (albeit mostly crippled without full text content).

RSS was the decentralized web before that became cool again.

Matt Stultz writes:
Does any other model repository do this?

Yes, here are a few RSS feeds from other 3D printing sites:

Why would you do this?

Implementing RSS Feeds takes work. And only a small percentage of your users will ever use it. However, these users will most likely be your power users. Users who will promote your site in two ways:

  • directly by using the aggregated feed data to publish links to you (as I do with my link blog publishing my new models)
  • indirectly by getting your newest content delivered in their feed reader and then talking about this content on- and offline

It also signals that you value the contributions of your users by not locking them into your system.

rss, feed
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