Dougal Campbell's geek ramblings

WordPress, web development, and world domination.

Improved Thunderbird OPML

I’ve updated the OPML import/export patch for Mozilla Thunderbird that I mentioned before. The new patch comes from Robert Sayre, and improves both the import and export of OPML files. Full details are on the Thunderbird Bugzilla tracker.

I have updated the patched, downloadable version of newsblog.jar for your hacking pleasure.

In case all of the above was gobbledygook to you, here are some definitions:

Outline Processor Markup Language. This is a file format often used by feed aggregators to exchange information about subscription lists.
Many web sites, both blogs and traditional news outlets, provide articles in a special format known as a ‘feed’. The most common feed format is RSS, but another, more recent, contender is Atom. A feed may contain the full text of all articles from a site, or in some cases, just summaries. By checking the feed periodically for updates, one can easily find out when new content is available in an automated fashion, typically by using a feed aggregator.
Feed Aggregator
Software designed to read feeds on a regular basis, and alert users to site updates. There are many variations on aggregators. Some are stand-alone applications, others are add-ons for existing applications, and some are web-based services. Using an aggregator is an effective way to monitor a large number of web sites and filter down to the very latest information quickly and efficiently.
Mozilla Thunderbird
The stand-alone email application from the Mozilla project. Recent versions of Thunderbird added the ability to read site feeds, however the user interface is still lacking several key features, such as the ability to mass-import (or export) subscription lists from an OPML file. The patch mentioned above adds this ability.
Really Simple Syndication, or alternately, Rich Site Summaries. There are several different versions of RSS, but the most common are RSS 1.0 and RSS 2.0, which are quiet different in their details. RSS 2.0 is a simpler XML format, while RSS 1.0 is an RDF format. Due to the confusion of “competing” versions of RSS, a segment of the blogging community invented a new format called Atom, which has been gaining in popularity.
The Atom specification came about as an effort to solve several problems in the various versions of RSS. In addition to the syndication format, it is also used as the core of a publishing API (similarly, RSS 2.0 was used as the core of the metaWeblog API. However, Atom is much more thoroughly thought-out). I won’t bore you with the details here. If you’re really interested, you can just Google up some links and spend a few hours catching up on the history.

Basically, if you want to keep up with the latest news from a large number of web sites, you use a news aggregator. You “subscribe” to a site’s news feed by adding it to the list of feeds in your aggregator. That software will then let you know which sites have updated, and which ones have not. When you see an update, you can either read it directly in the aggregator, or click a link to view the actual site in your web browser.

An aggregator will most often present you a summary of updates and headlines. You can quickly peruse this summary to determine which articles look interesting enough to read in more detail, and which ones you might want to just ignore. This is usually much quicker than clicking through to every site that you want to keep track of in your web browser, only to see that most of them haven’t updated since the last time you looked.

About Dougal Campbell

Dougal is a web developer, and a "Developer Emeritus" for the WordPress platform. When he's not coding PHP, Perl, CSS, JavaScript, or whatnot, he spends time with his wife, three children, a dog, and a cat in their Atlanta area home.
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