Monday, 29 October 2007

Refund for Microsoft software? Linux joy

Linux fans who resent paying for a pre-installed Microsoft Windows operating system or other Windows software that they don't want and won't use should be perking up, at least in Europe.

At the end of September a French court ordered Acer to refund to a notebook buyer a total of 311.85 euros out of a total price of 599 euros (135.20 euros for Windows XP Home, 60 euros for Microsoft Works, 40.99 euros for PowerDVD, 38.66 euros for Norton Antivirus and 37 euros for NTI CD Maker) - plus another 650 euros for, amongst other things, legal costs.

And now, an Italian court has recently told Hewlett-Packard to refund to the buyer of a HP Compaq notebook computer, which had Microsoft software pre-installed, a total of 140 euros - 90 euros for Windows XP, and 50 euros for Windows Works 8.

That was apparently based on Microsoft's End User License Agreement (EULA) which includes the statement "IF YOU DO NOT AGREE, DO NOT INSTALL, COPY, OR USE THE SOFTWARE; YOU MAY RETURN IT TO YOUR PLACE OF PURCHASE FOR A FULL REFUND, IF APPLICABLE". It seems that the court rejected HP's argument that the licensing conditions had been unilaterally set by Microsoft; HP must have known about those conditions.

While no similar court rulings are known from Germany, there has been a newspaper report about a customer who ordered a notebook from Dell Deutschland in March 2007. They replaced the preinstalled Windows with Linux, and managed to get a credit of 78 euros for the Windows operating system and a (further unspecified) Microsoft program - without having to sue for it.

I wonder if any Linux user in the UK or US has tried to return unwanted software and asked their supplier for a refund for the Windows programs, and if so what happened? (obviously it's a good idea to do that as soon as possible after you get the computer - don't wait months if you're going to try it!). I'd be interested to know if anyone has heard anything about this or tried it themselves, and what luck they had?

The Italian buyer in that court case has posted a "fill in the blanks" letter asking for a refund, English translation here. I've no idea if it could be used outside of Italy, but hey it's a starting point if anyone wants to have a go (remembering that this isn't legal advice etc, I haven't a clue if it would work outside of Italy or France!). Still, they've struck a blow for consumers and Linux users - if you're a Linux-only user, why should you have pay for software you don't intend to use just because the vendor insists on preinstalling it with the PC hardware you buy? (I use both Windows and Linux, myself.)

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Search all Google blogs: update - developers & others

I've updated my post on searching all Google blogs to add:
  • recently-started Google blogs (only up till today, of course), so that they'll be included in your search too

  • a new search which is limited just to Google dev blogs i.e. blogs mainly of interest to developers (includes a few blogs of interest to developers though not exclusively on coding e.g. Google Blog, Webmaster Central etc)

  • details of the feed URL for just the Google developers' blogs, for coders to add to their feed readers (in case anyone hadn't seen the link).
You can try the searches using the search forms on that post, or two of them in my sidebar (I've not included the box to search all English-only blogs).

You can even add any of those searches to your personalised Google homepage if you wish - the buttons are in that post.

Language & "translation" fun

OK, some of this isn't new at all, but I missed it before and I know I wasn't the only one. So - here's a collection of (kinda) language or translation funnies or just plain fun.

Google is hyperglotic, we all know that. But did you know that Google's Language Tools page, which lets you use Google's interface in the language of your choice, includes as options:
(as well as the more expected Esperanto and Interlingua)?

I'd completely missed those before. If you did too, try those links above - they really work. And your selected "language" is maintained in the interface in your search results too. Plus, those languages are offered as options in the "Google in Your Language" program!

I also like these:
  • Flip - create upside down text - it's fun to enter stuff and copy/paste the upside down result in emails to your mates! noʎ ǝɹɐ ʍoɥ ǝɹǝɥʇ ıɥ. Not quite translation, but hey.

  • English-to-12-Year-Old-AOLer Translator - self-evident. Converts English to text speak etc.

  • Pop Culture Translator (Flash) - click on a still photo to play the accompanying video clip complete with "English translation" voiceover. Absolutely hilarious, I especially like the "translations" of Sean Paul and Ozzy Osbourne. And Brad Pitt's Oirish. Oh, I love all of them.

  • The Dialectizer, the granddaddy of them all I believe, and still funny - translates entered text or a web page into Redneck, Jive, Cockney, Elmer Fudd, Swedish Chef, Moron, Pig Latin, or Hacker, in case anyone has managed not to have come across it yet. Shame that some sites have actually asked not to be "translated", including Google - despite the great sense of humour they showed in doing the language thang on their own site (if you try to enter to translate on that site, you get "We regret to inform you that the owner of the web page you are trying to dialectize has requested that it not be translated by The Dialectizer.") Well I'm hopefully enough of a good sport that here's A Consuming Experience in cockney.
And of course, in case you haven't seen it before, I still like the text to speech tool where you can type in anything to have it read out in your choice of voices and accents, and even download the WAV audio file to email to a friend.

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Wifi webmail etc security: sidejacking - protect yourself

You're at risk from sidejacking when you use the internet via a free, or even paid-for, unsecured public wi-fi or WLAN (wireless networking) hotspot. That could include just accessing your Hotmail or other webmail, or your Facebook or MySpace or other social networking account, your Amazon account, etc.

An attacker on the same wifi network could "sniff", steal and use login details and info of users of that open WLAN - such as "AIM buddy list, their DNS requests, alternate e-mail addresses they use, and so forth."

This is old(ish) news and has been well publicised e.g. by the Register, Heise Security, and even the BBC, but I didn't blog it at the time and it's important enough to bear repeating, especially as more and more people use free public wifi - e.g. on 8 October 2007 McDonald's announced the rollout of free wireless internet access across all their UK restaurants, to be finished by the end of the year, hmm I might even develop a taste for McNuggets!

So, what's sidejacking? It's a clever wheeze. Many websites use what's called SSL to securely encrypt or scramble the data that's sent between them and your computer so that even if bad guys could intercept and copy it they shouldn't be able to make sense of it. That's why when you make payments over the Net, you ought to make sure the webpage starts with "https", with the "s" being a vital indicator of an encrypted page.

However, most sites don't encrypt every single page you go to after you log in to their site. They might make the initial login process secure, but after that the web pages you visit on that site (e.g. different folders in your email account) will not necessarily be secure. So bad hackers can therefore intercept the unencrypted information, particularly the "cookie" files saved with your browser and sent between it and the site - and which are often used to log you in.

At various cybersecurity conventions in the summer a security firm Errata Security demo'd free tools they'd produced to make the process very simple. With those tools it's now dead easy for bad hackers to sniff your public wifi internet traffic and "clone" and "replay" your cookies: Ferret steals cookies and other info, and Hamster lets their browser (Firefox) make use of those cookies.

Even more generally, all sorts of other unencrypted info can be intercepted and copied, and used to deduce details about you or your accounts which can then be used by the thief, which Errata call "seepage", and which I think of as the electronic rather than human equivalent of social engineering. As Errata put it: "Examples of data seepage are what happens when you power-on your computer. It will broadcast to the world the list of WiFi access-points you've got cached on your computer, the previous IP address you used (requested by DHCP), your NetBIOS name, your login ID, and a list of servers (via NetBIOS request) you want connections to."

See Errata's very interesting and not too techie slides about data seepage (in PPT format - if you don't have Powerpoint try emailing them to yourself in Gmail and then view them from there via Google Docs). As they say at the end, the best solution is to be aware of the danger - everyone really doesn't need to work from a coffee shop.

Demo and how to launch a public wi fi attack

If you weren't worried enough already, you might be interested to see this video demo.

The article it goes with provides a pretty full step by step practical howto on Ferret/Hamster for would-be hackers, with a slideshow of the exact screens on the attacking computer, and list of hardware/software needed! Plus some tips.

How to protect yourself?

How do you protect your security when you're accessing the Net through a public wireless connection, then?

The main thing is that the site has to be secure on every page - which is under the control of the site owner, not us consumers, unfortunately.

Before you login to a website, at least make sure that the page where you enter your details, the one with the boxes for your login info before you hit Submit or OK, is a secure page - i.e. starts with "https". But that's not enough, it has to be SSL all the way.

Google sites

Google didn't use to redirect users who tried to go to a http page to the https one, but since this news they automatically do that with Gmail, good on them! (try going to and you'll get automatically forwarded to a different, secure page). But you should still make sure that you start with an https page, and use something like for your bookmark or favorites i.e. the "s" version.

Google come out smelling of roses here not just because they now redirect Gmail users to an SSL page, but because it seems every page on Gmail uses SSL (https), so your Gmail should be safe from this particular attack as long as you login via a secure page.

If you're really paranoid you could use tools like the Gmail Secure Greasemonkey script for Firefox (how to install Greasemonkey and scripts) to force secure connections all the way through just in case. However, there's an even better and easier tool, which I'll come to in a moment.

You should note that, as Errata point out, only Gmail (and Gmail Chat) is secure in this way currently. You may still be at risk if you login on other Google "properties" like Blogger, etc - and of course now that your Google Account, which you use to login to Blogger, is used not just for Gmail but also Blogger and other Google services, someone who steals your Blogger login could use it for your Gmail too. So it would be great if Google were to make all logins and pages SSL across all their services. The Register article said there were options for many Google properties to keep Google Calendar and some other Google services encrypted throughout the whole session.

At first I couldn't find any options in the settings, only instructions for Google Calendar (which require Gmail Secure), and I also worked out that if you login to it with https i.e. it does seem to stay at https.

But the best solution is to use CustomizeGoogle, a free Firefox extension (how to install extensions). It will force secure connections not only for Gmail but also for Calendar, Docs and Reader (after installation in Fox go to Tools, CustomizeGoogle options, pick each one of them down the left and tick the "Secure" box in turn):

I did try https with Blogger but it throws me right back to http... I have a feeling Blogger isn't high up on Google's secure connection list, but as Google Account info is vulnerable through that (and Picasa, etc, which has a secure login page but not after that) and can be used for any other Google service, I hope Google will fix all this soon.

Other sites?

Yahoo and Microsoft don't automatically redirect users to secure pages, sadly. Yahoo say they submit login details using SSL, but when I've tried Yahoo Mail there's not an "s" in sight throughout the login process or afterwards. In other words, I very much doubt you're secure on Yahoo! Mail. Unless it was a hiccup the times I tried...

With Microsoft Live Hotmail, you could click the "Use enhanced security" link then sign in. But the point is, after that, it's back to a http page - not https. So really you're not secure there either.

Why don't all providers and web services use SSL all the way? Because it's more expensive for them, of course, and they don't want to pay for it unless they're forced to.

So what do you do if you have Yahoo or Microsoft webmail, apart from switching to Gmail (which anyone can now do, for free)? You could try to see if the wifi network you're using has encryption, and if so turn it on. But if it's an open network... well you could lobby Yahoo etc to use SSL throughout their sites, but short of that, if you're using public wifi, you either have to live with the risk, or:
  • Don't use your browser, instead use suitable email software - encrypt the connection between your email program and the mail server (you need to use something like Outlook which has this feature of course, here's how) and access your Hotmail via POP (only available to paying customers so far but to be rolled out more generally in time; for free accounts I've found this option for POP but it does not allow SSL, so don't use it for wifi security). This works also for your ISP email too, or

  • Use your mobile phone instead of wi-fi - as Errata say, "you can often access the Internet by "tethering" your mobile phone, or get one of the new notebooks with built-in adapters." It's slower than wifi yes, but maybe that's the price you pay for the greater security. (Some smartphones have wifi. If you try to browse using your cellphone over a public wifi connection rather than GPRS, EDGE, HSDPA, etc, I suspect the risks will be the same as if you used a laptop.)
What about accessing other sites, like your bookmarks, Facebook account etc? It looks like mobile broadband is the only easy way if you want to be more secure.

The geeky way

There are other ways, but they depend on other people or ISPs, or they require more geekiness than I can muster currently, e.g. "setup a box at home and VPN to it, and harden the wifi adapter so that none of your normal system applications (e.g. NetBIOS) are bound to it." Eeeeek, I say! If VPN is too much to face, there's also SSH tunneling, which again takes time and patience and a server to go through to, like on your home computer (but there are some tutorials on tutorials on VPN - step by step for XP Pro and XP on your laptop - and on SSH tunneling, just three examples.)

At least there seem to be providers out there which for a fee can provide a server you can tunnel through to for more secure access, which might be slightly easier to use if still not the easiest, e.g. Guardster (again I've not tried it, just come across it, but it does seem to be known). Investigating all this is on my very long to do list... Does anyone know if your cookies etc are safe provided you use Tor? If so, then phew I'm sorted.

If there's enough demand for it I'll roll up my sleeves and have a go with the VPN etc stuff, and write my own tutorial if necessary. Let me know!

And finally, a few other wifi security tips:

Friday, 26 October 2007

Feeds basics 101: how to publish & publicise a news feed (part 2)

How to publish a feed for your blog or website, and why, are explained in this part 2 of my introductory series on feeds. (Part 1 of explained the basics of what web feeds or newsfeeds are, and how to subscribe to feeds - if you're new to the subject you may want to read part 1 first, though I do repeat some info here.)

2. How to publish, enhance and publicise your own blog or site feed

This part 2 is a practical "how to" - again with a particular emphasis on Blogger / blogs, but some of it may be of help to users of other platforms too.

Why should a blogger or website owner publish and publicise a feed?

Why bother to put out a feed? The main reason, in one sentence: to make your site or blog more accessible, and to publicise and promote your blog and your writing, or indeed other content like music, which is straying a little into podcast territory, or photos - photographers can provide their uploaded photos as a photo feed or picture feed e.g. Photobucket or PicasaWeb, and Flickr photostreams can be available as feeds; or even via Google Pack screensaver to people's desktops. Video feeds are known as vidcasts, webcasts or videocasts, etc, and Blogger for instance have tested and now allow podcasting of videos on Blogger blogs. (See my podcasting guide).

If you're a blogger you probably want lots of people to read your blog or view your photos or videos etc. Offering a feed makes it more likely that they will, by giving people who prefer to read or view (or listen to) blogs via newsreaders or aggregators the ability to do so. You're just giving people more flexibility to "consume" your blog in the way which best suits them.

We're seeing feeds being displayed not just in specialised feed readers but also as part of other kinds of info on personalised webpages or customizable webpages like My Yahoo!, via Google's iGoogle personalized homepage with Firefox toolbar integration e.g. through gadgets, or even MyBlogLog (e.g. this blog's MyBlogLog page) and the Blog Friends app on Facebook (more on Blog Friends), and even in people's blog sidebars. In fact, it's possible to display the content of feeds on any webpage just using some Javascript (talk about recursive!), and I'll be doing a separate post on feed display via Javascript. People are getting all Web 2.0 and social media with feeds too - e.g. Google Reader lets its users share, on a public webpage (or via its feed, of course) or by email, or as a small clip that can be embedded on any website or blog, individual selected items in their subscribed feeds or all items they've assigned selected tags to, and can even be used offline now.

You can even get feeds on mobile phones, and not just through iGoogle. For mobile phones, Nokia's WidSets uses feeds to enable users to read blogs and access other things on their cellphones, and feeds are also used by Twitter competitor Jaiku, which was recently acquired by Google after just a year and a half in operation (so Jaiku founder Jyri Engeström's 5 principles for Web 2.0 success are very well worth noting!).

Furthermore there are sites like Feedster which specialise in collecting newsfeeds, sort of like search engines for newsfeeds. If you provide a feed, you can get your blog added to those sites - again potentially bringing your blog to the attention of the people who use those sites.

Last but certainly not least, increasingly web services and other services like search engines are making use of feeds for certain things like indexing your blog and even determining the scope of their crawl - for instance Google BlogSearch and Technorati.

Indeed at first Google's Blog Search wouldn't index your blog at all unless you could give it a feed (they now allow manual submission of your blog URL even without a feed, but haven't updated their help pages yet it seems).

Another example is sitemaps (introduced by Google), where you can provide Google with a sitemap via your feed to help Google index your site better, if you aren't able to upload a sitemap file to your blog's server. And who doesn't want Google to index their site better?

To make sure all these services pick up your blog properly so your blog can be available via all these services, you'll want to activate and publicise your feed.

I'd go so far as to say that I think feeds are so vital now that if your blog platform doesn't automatically produce a feed for you, you should make them - or change to another blogging provider that does. The major ones all do like Blogger, Wordpress, Movable Type.

How do you publish a feed? Where's your feed anyway?

As I explained in part 1, you "syndicate" your blog posts by converting them into RSS or Atom format (the two main flavours of feeds) - or, more accurately, producing a "copy" in that format of a certain number of your blog posts (their titles and extracts, or maybe the full posts), which feed reader software can then periodically fetch for your subscribers.

Most blogging platforms have the built-in ability to automatically convert your posts into an RSS or Atom feed - you just need to makes sure that feature is turned on, and then publicise your feed's URL i.e. Web address.

On, the feed feature can be turned on or off, though it's usually on by default. Their help page explains how to activate your feed: just go to your Dashboard settings, Settings tab, Site Feed, and if "Allow Blog Feed" is on "None" change it to "Short" or "Full" (more on the choice in the next section) and be sure to click Save Settings before you leave that page.

Blogger even helpfully produces feeds in both RSS and Atom formats to please both brigades. In fact Blogger have given users a lot more control over the sorts of feeds they can get - more on that will follow in a separate Blogger-dedicated post.

Blogging platforms normally have a standard way for people or aggregators to find their feeds, so for a Blogspot blog whose URL is, the basic native feed will always be at or or alternatively or even for custom domain Blogger blogs (more on Blogger feeds in a future post).

Similarly there are standard feed URL formats or locations for WordPress blogs.

Your feed file location basically depends on your blogging software and who you use as your host.

Your feed settings; and full or short (partial) feed?

Now with a feed, you can often control just how much of your content is "copied over" from your webpage to the feed file.

With Blogger for instance, Blogger can make available 3 main types of feed - feeds for all posts, all comments, and all comments for a particular post - called Blog Posts Feed, Blog Comment Feed and Per Post Comment feed, see the pic further below.

For each of those, you can decide if the feed is going to be full or short (or, of course, "none" - which means no feed file is created at all for that type of content).

In other words, you can set a feed to show just the title and the first X characters of each post that it contains (short), or you can get it show the full text & other contents of the entire post (full).

The titles/headlines shown in the feed will be clickable links which take them direct to the full post's Webpage on your blog - i.e. the "permalink" for the normal post page or item page for that post.

I provide a full Blogger feed rather than summary feed for my posts, and I've explained how and why in a previous post. I won't go into the debate on full vs excerpts feeds now, that seems to be never-ending, but there is a concern that with full feeds it's easier for spammers & thieves to steal the content of your blog or site and pass it off as their own or make money off your original content. I know it's a risk, and it's happened to me a few times (you need then to complain to the site owner or host in that case for them to delete the account of the bad guy). But like others I still think the benefits outweigh the disadvantages, so far anyway.

In fact, being a big believer in user choice, I provide 3 options for my readers: they can have a full feed, excerpts only, or even headlines only, as they choose (here's how you can offer the same options on your blog).

So, to recap, a user subscribing to a feed may see a list of the titles / headlines of the posts (or news items) in the feed, and (depending on their reader and how the blog owner has set their feed) may also see a excerpts under each heading, or else they'll see the full content of each post.

How do potential subscribers know what your feed address is?

Now I've already said in part 1 that to subscribe for a feed, you need to look for the feed's link on the webpage and then copy and paste it into your reader, or auto-discover it from the webpage. So, conversely, a publisher needs to provide the feed links on their website, and ideally also provide auto-discovery features for potential subscribers.

Many blogging platforms now do this automatically, e.g. Blogger does now with their New Blogger standard templates - all you have to do is turn the feed on if it isn't already. It's the "Subscribe to: Posts (Atom)" link at the bottom of the page, and similarly for comment feeds (if you've turned that on). (Previously, Blogger didn't do that, and you had to insert the link to your feed manually in your template.)

If you're happy to use the Blogger feed as is, that's fine, you needn't do anything more. But if you want to use the more powerful features of Feedburner (and to me that's a no brainer, you should if you're serious about your blog), which I will discuss in more detail in part 3, then once upon a time you had to edit your template to point to the different Feedburner feed URL.

Following Google's acquisition of Feedburner, you no longer have to manually edit your template to redirect a Blogger feed. You can now just forward or redirect your Blogger feed to the URL of your Feedburner feed or indeed another feed, and you'll be fine. Users will be offered a subscription link to the Feedburner feed instead.

How to redirect a Feedburner feed in Blogger. In the Dashboard go to Settings, Site Feed. See the section I've outlined in red in the screenshot below? That's where you enter the URL of your Feedburner feed, then of course click Save, and that's it:

Publicising your feed URL. If you don't like Blogger's feed links at the bottom of your blog pages and want some prettier way to let visitors to your blog know you have a feed and what its URL is so they can add it to their feed reader or aggregator, you'll have to edit your template manually.

One common way is to add something to your sidebar - either a text link to your feed, or an icon with the link (this kind of icon is what's known as a "chicklet" - that term seems reserved for feed icons). For instance, the orange feed icon I showed in part 1, , is a feed icon.

That's why you'll see links on websites or blogs saying "Syndicate this site", or little orange icons like the one above, or buttons that say "RSS" or "XML" on them. Fortunately feed chicklets have been standardised to look like (though it could be in a different colour), so people will know where to look to find the subscription link.

All that those links or icons do is link to the feed URL as a standard HTML hyperlink. To subscribe to your feed, the user should just enter the feed URL into their feed reader.

But of course to copy a link you should rightclick the link text or icon and choose Copy. One annoyance is that intuitively people leftclick links, including links to feeds, and those not familiar with feeds will end up opening the feed in their browser instead. Browsers aren't designed to read feeds as such (although the most modern browsers are fine now), so people can get a scary unfriendly view which is likely to put them off their feed (couldn't resist the pun!). But Feedburner helps with that, which I'll come to in part 3.

Also, it's possible to add a "title" attribute to the feed icon so that anyone hovering over the icon can see instructions for the feed, even though that's not necessary with Feedburner. By adding a title attribute, I just mean using code like the following in the template (you can of course change the title text to anything you like):
<a href="http://YOURBLOGFEEDLINK"><img src="LINKTOFEEDICON" title="RIGHTclick and copy link into your feed reader" /></a>

And as I mentioned earlier, I provide 3 options for my readers in my sidebar: they can have a full feed, excerpts only, or even headlines only, as they choose (here's how to offer the same options on your own blog).

Autodiscovery of your feed

Part 1 touched on "feed auto-discovery", which is a way to let feed readers which support it (including Firefox and IE 7) pick up or discover your feed URL automatically from your blog or website URL, so that the user doesn't have to manually type or copy the feed's URL into their feedreader.

To enable auto-discovery of your feed when someone visits your blog or enters its URL into their reader, there needs to be certain code in the "head" section (i.e. between the <head> and </head> tags) of your website or blog's HTML template, which looks something like this:
<link rel="alternate" type="application/atom+xml" title="YOUR BLOG'S NAME - ATOM" href="http://YOURBLOGFEED-ATOMURL" />
<link rel="alternate" type="application/rss+xml" title="YOUR BLOG'S NAME - RSS" href="http://YOURBLOGFEED-RSSURL" />

The first block of code points auto-discoverers toward the URL of your blog's Atom feed, and the second to its RSS feed (which because it's in a different format will be in a separate file, so it will have a separate URL).

With Blogger you won't be able to see that code in your template, but if you open your site in a browser and view the source, you'll see those tags in the head section, just look for the tags starting with link rel="alternate".

Why can't you see those tags in your template? It's because by default Blogger templates have a single tag (between the head tags) which cleverly automatically incorporates several "standard" tags into the final HTML webpage of your blog - including that autodiscovery code above, plus a few other things.

In old Blogger classic templates (used by those who publish to their blogs via FTP), this tag is called <$BlogMetaData$> (more on the <$BlogMetaData$> tag).

Now widgety "New Blogger" (no longer "Blogger Beta"!) blogs sport a different tag which does pretty much the same job the old BlogMetaData tag did. Again, you can't see the feed autodiscovery code in your raw template because it gets inserted by that tag, but you'll see it in the "View source" of the webpage itself. The "shorthand tag" in New Blogger which replaces the BlogMetaData tag is:
<b:include data='blog' name='all-head-content'/>

Once, Blogger users who wanted to use a Feedburner feed had to get their hands dirty tinkering with their template in order to get auto-discovery to point to their Feedburner feed. But now, if you redirect your Blogger feed to your Feedburner URL as mentioned above, you won't have to do anything further: Blogger will automatically add the correct auto-discovery tag for you, pointing to your Feedburner URL.

(If like me you have multiple feeds, then simple redirection won't be enough because you're only allowed to enter one feed into the redirection box. But I won't go into the template changes here - see this post.)

How to publicize your feed

As already mentioned, the first step is to make sure the link to your feed is clearly displayed on your blog or website. Add a chicklet to your sidebar if you wish, and you probably should (the howto is above).

Then, make sure your auto-discovery settings are correct, redirecting to Feedburner if you've burned your feed. Those are the key things.

How else can you publicise your feed? Well just like you can (and should) submit your site's Web address to Google, you can add your feed link to various sites (see Robin Good's suggestions of sites to submit your feed to for instance) e.g. submit it to Google's Blog Search, tell all your friends about your feed address, make sure you include the feed link in your email signature, and so on - just use the ways you'd use to publicise your website or blog URL.

How do you know how many subscribers you have to your whizzy new feed? Feedburner is great for tracking visitors and hits, and I will cover it in part 3. If you sign up for Google Webmaster Tools and have added your site (use your feed URL as your sitemap as mentioned above), you also now get statistics on how many people have signed up for your feed using Google Reader or iGoogle personalised home page.

There are also specific helpful ways to publicise your blog using various features of Feedburner, which takes your feed and converts into another much more useful feed, with a different Web address or URL. I'll go into Feedburner further in part 3 in my beginners' howto on Feedburner.

Meanwhile, you might be interested to read Google Reader's tips for publishers.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Blogger: subscribe to comments by email - but not quite there yet?

You can now choose to get all comments on a particular Blogger blog post emailed to you as and when new comments are published, if you want to follow the discussion on a particular post - but you only get this option when you post a comment, and you can only get comments sent to a Gmail /Google account (your own comment will be emailed to you too).

You can unsubscribe anytime via a link in the email, and - a nice touch this - there's even a link in the email to click to post another comment directly on the post you've been following, if you want to.

This new feature was announced yesterday on the official Blogger blog Blogger Buzz, and there's a Blogger help page on how to subscribe to comments by email.

It's a great development, thank you Team Blogger, and not before time too - but in my view improvements are always possible, and I have a few constructive suggestions to make.

No email link next to subscribe link?

First, the help page (here's a screenshot) seems a bit misleading:

You'll see it says "You can subscribe to a post's comments by clicking the "Email" link next to "Subscribe to comments" on the post page."

That sentence suggests that, in order to subscribe to comments by email, you are meant to go to the post page, and then you should see a new "Email" link next to "Subscribe to comments", and you should then click that.

But there's no such "Email" link. I've tried going to a few Blogger blogs including test new ones that should have all the Blogger defaults, or the example blogs mentioned in the Buzz post, and it's just not there. There's just no "Email" link next to the "Subscribe to comments" link at all on the post page - see? Nada:

Well, I then thought, could it be that the normal "Email this post" link now has an extra use? Is that what the Help page means?

Nope. I tried those too, and there's no way to subscribe to comments through that route.

So, as far as I can see, the only way you can get an email subscription to a post's comments is through clicking the comments (or "Post a comment" link) - whether on the main page or the post page.

If you click to view comments or post a comment on any page, then - and only then - can you see a "Email follow-up comments to" link (if you were signed in to your Google Account at the time you clicked the comments link)

- or "", with boxes for you to login to your Google Account (if you're not logged in yet):

The downside of that is obvious. If someone's interested in a post, they won't know that they can subscribe to comments by email until they actually click a link to post or view comments. Yes, if they're that interested they'll probably click the comments link anyway - but they won't do that if it says 0 or if they don't want to add a comment, only follow them. So again they may not know that this possibility now exists.

I'd like a visible link for the option to subscribe, that you can see on the main page or post page itself. Or am I missing something? What I'm seeing when I test the subscription for comments feature is so at odds with the Help that I do wonder.

(Before anyone asks, I even tried changing my Blogger Dashboard to "US English", or rather "English - English" as US English is of course the definitive English according to Google, as that has been the solution for missing features in other things Google - but that still didn't bring up any "Email" link for me.)

You can only subscribe when you post a comment

Another downside - if you're the shy silent non-participatory type and just want to follow comments on a post without actually posting any comment yourself, well, again, as far as I can see, Blogger just won't let you do it - you have to post a comment before you can subscribe. Shrinking violets are banned from being able to follow a discussion.

I've tried doing this on several blogs, even when logged in, and there's no way to subscribe without actually putting something in the comment box.

I think this should be changed so that people can follow a conversation or thread without having to post a comment themselves, if that's what they want to do.

In the meantime, one workaround of course is to enter a comment saying "Only doing this to subscribe". But if you want to subscribe anonymously, as in not letting people know that you're subscribing (other than those in Google, who will know of course cos you gave them your email address), well that workaround wouldn't work for you would it.

Only Google Account holders can subscribe for comments by email

Finally, I can understand why Blogger want to limit it to Google Account holders only (obviously they're trying to make more people join the fold), but that to me just excludes many people even though anyone can now sign up for Gmail for free and also get a Google Account for free (which comes with Gmail etc).

Eric said in the Buzz post that "We only send comments to your verified Google Account so that someone else can’t use this feature to send you email you didn’t sign up for."

But if they want to ensure it's the genuine email address of the person concerned, why not just send an automatic email to the email address entered (Gmail or not), with a confirmation link that has to be clicked to activate the email subscription? In fact they do that, i.e. require confirmations, for unverified Google Accounts - so why not allow non-Google Accounts too, subject to email verification?

It's much nicer (and a lot more non-evil) to gently lure people into the fold with goodies, instead of trying to force their hand and putting an extra barrier in the way of both readers who want to be able to subscribe to comments by email and bloggers who want to enable their visitors to do that, surely? More accessible and more usable is always better. But that's just my opinion...

Wishlist for Blogger email subscriptions to comments

So, my wishlist is pretty obvious from what I've said. Please, pretty please, could we have:
  1. A clear "Subscribe to comments by email" link, perhaps next to the Comments link, on both main and post pages - with of course the ability to position it where the Blogger user wishes, on whichever pages (or not) we wish, with the text that we want? (moon, ask for, why not.)

  2. The ability to subscribe to comments by email even if the subscriber doesn't post a comment themselves (a.k.a. let's be nice to the shy folk)? Or at least an option to turn that on or off, i.e. to let the shy subscribe, or only let commenters subscribe.

  3. The ability for non-Gmail users to subscribe for comments by email, even if they're on (boo! hiss!) Hotmail or AOL etc? (a.k.a. let's not exclude our readers, whatever service they use).

Monday, 22 October 2007

Feeds basics 101: introduction to newsfeeds (part 1)

Feeds, RSS feeds, Atom feeds, XML feeds, newsfeeds, web feeds, they're increasingly common on the internet these days - but what are they, how do you subscribe, and how do you publish and publicise your own news feed? This post is a 3-part introductory tutorial guide to web feeds, aimed at intelligent non-geeks who don't want to be treated like idiots just because they don't wish to struggle through a sea of unnecessarily befuddling tech jargon, but do want to learn rather more about feeds than the average dummy, with a few tips and tricks along the way.

The introduction of the graphical Web, the point-and-click web browser, revolutionised the Internet. Only a relatively small proportion of Net users may be using newsfeeds right now, but more and more are going to. I personally think that feeds are just as revolutionary as the point-and-click Web was. And lately many of the posts I've been wanting to write have been to do with feeds, so it's about time I did a more integrated post for beginners on feeds, as I'm aware that actually a lot of people still don't use them - not counting of course those Web-savvy denizens of the Net who virtually live online.

There are lots of intros or guides out there already on feeds e.g. by Feedburner, or by the BBC (more pictorial BBC version), or on Wikipedia. This is just my own personal take on the subject. My emphasis will be on feeds for Blogger or Blogspot blogs, but most of what I say will be relevant to other blogging platforms too, and indeed other kinds of websites which aren't blogs. As always I'd appreciate any feedback on clarity, any errors etc. (and should any publishers be thinking of a book on feeds or other techie subjects for the intelligent lay person, please see my sidebar for how to reach me!)

First I'll explain the basics generally (but still with a practical bias), then in part 2 I'll explain how to make use of the feed that's associated with your blog i.e. how to publish and publicise your own feed, and finally in part 3 I'll show you how to use the free Feedburner service to "syndicate" your blog or website, including the use of some of its other helpful features, summarising some things I've learned from fiddling with my own feed.

Note that this basic post doesn't discuss the underlying coding or how to create a feed from scratch (phew, I hear some of you say), but rather aims to give you enough info so that you can figure out for yourself how best to make use of feeds. It does assume basic knowledge of HTML (for which see e.g. Blogger's help on HTML) and basic understanding of computer files and folders.

1. Feeds - the very basics

So what's a feed anyway?

A news feed (feed for short) is in fact a special kind of text file written in a particular standardised format, which can be automatically created by certain Web server software from sources such as webpages. Newsfeed files may be flexibly used in all sorts of ways by software that knows how to fetch them and read them (feed readers) and possibly do other things with them.

That all sounds a bit broad and general, but the kinds of things you can get feeds for and how feeds can be put to use really have changed radically, as I'll come to later, and no doubt they will keep on evolving.

It may be clearer if we step back a bit and start with the most basic and popular function of feeds.

With websites whose content often changes, such as news sites or blogs, it can be a pain as well as time-consuming to have to revisit sites constantly just to check what's new. Using newsfeeds, you don't have to.

If a site publishes a newsfeed (also known as "syndicating" the site), you can just "subscribe" to its feed via software or Web services known as "feed readers" or "aggregators". Feeds are also sometimes known as "syndicated content". (Confusingly, "syndicate" sometimes seems to be used for the act of a user subscribing to a site, as well as the act of publishing a feed.)

Subscribe to all the site feeds you want, and then the new content from all these different sources will be automatically fed through to you to skim at your leisure at once.

Effcctively, feeds are a kind of "pull" technology where your desired content is automatically pulled to your computer behind the scenes so that you can access it all together in one single place, rather than your having to go look for it in all sorts of different places. Some might say it's a kind of push technology but strictly it isn't, and I say "push" in hushed tones as it became a bit of a dirty word after it was overhyped and fell flat on its face in the earlier days of the Web. The concept is excellent but it was pushed (if you'll forgive the pun) before its time, that's all. Push technology (e.g. instant messaging), or should I say quasi-push in the case of feeds, is certainly coming into its own now. But I digress.

Here is a (deservedly much linked to) lighthearted video by Common Craft called "RSS in Plain English" which explains the "push" aspect of web feeds very clearly for non-geeks:

Feeds as shop windows

Another analogy I dreamt up for feeds (when writing my intro to podcasting) is this: shopping. Yep, you heard the shopping analogy for feeds here first at A Consuming Experience! Trust a girly geek to come up with that...

So what do I mean, shopping? Well, think of it like this: instead of your having to keep going round your favourite stores to check what's new there (their webpages), shops display their latest wares in their shop windows (their feeds). You put your feet up at home and send your faithful personal shopper (feedreader) out regularly to check if there's anything new in the windows of your favorite shops - if there is anything new (and of course they'll know because, like any decent personal assistant, they've kept track of what they saw the last time they went there), then they'll bring it back home to you.

So you can have a replica of your favourite shop windows in your own living room, which you can rummage through at leisure in your own time, and you haven't even had to leave your house. Or, in the vast majority of cases, even pay a penny for what's been brought home to you.

Now the analogy isn't exact - some shops only put out free samples in their windows (partial feeds or excerpts only feeds) rather than the full product, the full feed, and you'll then have to go into the shop personally (visit the Website) if you want to see their new stuff properly - but I think that analogy helps to give a general but fairly accurate idea.

Feeds content - what do feeds cover, what are they for?

Just as there are blogs on everything under the sun, so there are feeds on every subject under the sun. That's because every blogging platform worth its salt automatically produces a newsfeed for each blog - i.e. it automatically dresses up its own shop window to show off any new goodies inside. You just need to open up the curtains and expose your wares, so to speak (and no, we're not talking Amsterdam shop windows, OK? This is a family blog. Harrumph).

What's more, you can have feeds for more things than just webpages. For instance, for many blogs you can get a comment feed, which is a feed showing all the comments posted to that blog, handy to help watch out for new comments on that blog. And you can have "per post" comment feeds, which show just the comments added on a particular blog post or webpage (see the Blogger feeds help). With Blogger you can even have "label feeds", showing all the posts which have been given a particular "label" by the author (i.e. posts which have been classed as being about a topic like "mobiles"), if the subscriber wants to keep track of new posts from a blog just on a single subject.

Feeds can be used not just for text, such as most Webpage content, but also to distribute other kinds of content too - notably, media feeds are possible for multi-media content such as music, video, even documents like PDFs. For instance, people can get MP3s via feeds, a.k.a. podcasts - e.g. internet radio shows (more on podcasting - feeds for music etc - in my podcasting guide). Video feeds are known as vidcasts, webcasts or videocasts, etc; Blogger for instance have tested and now allow podcasting of videos on Blogger blogs. And photographers can provide their uploaded photos as a photo feed or picture feed (e.g. Photobucket or PicasaWeb; and Flickr photostreams can be available as feeds), and even via Google Pack screensaver to people's desktops. You can get all Web 2.0 and social media with feeds too - e.g. Google Reader lets its users share, on a public webpage (or via its feed, of course) or by email, or as a small clip that can be embedded on any website or blog, individual selected items in their subscribed feeds or all items they've assigned selected tags to.

More and more Web services and applications, for example social networking sites, are providing feeds for their users, or re-purposing feeds. You can keep on top of the status of Blogger and its hiccups via the Blogger Status Feed, for instance, or subscribe to Google Finance or Google News, or government info if you really must. Or, less prosaically, transmit your blog feed into space! Twitter, the social networking service which uses SMS text etc, provides feeds. So does Facebook. For mobile phones, Nokia's WidSets uses feeds to enable users to read blogs and access other things on their cellphones, and feeds are also used by Twitter competitor Jaiku, which was recently acquired by Google after just a year and a half in operation (so Jaiku founder Jyri Engeström's 5 principles for Web 2.0 success are very well worth noting!). You can even get calendar feeds of diary entries or events e.g. from Google Calendar, etc, and potentially transport schedules on Google Transit. Many Web search engines base their indexing of sites on the feeds which sites like news sites output, e.g. Google's Sitemaps, and Google's Blog Search. (Apologies, this paragraph somehow disappeared from the draft when publishing - it should have been in the original published version.)

How do you subscribe to a newsfeed? - tools: feed readers

You can subscribe to a feed in two main ways:
  • on your own computer - use a feed reader program (a.k.a. "news aggregator" or "feed aggregator" programs like Juice - I'm going to say "reader" as it's shorter to type), or
  • via any computer connected to the Net - sign up for an online Web-based feed reader service (they're mostly free) like Bloglines (the pic at the top of this post is a Bloglines screenshot), Google Reader which dates from 2005 (and which you can now even read offline), or Netvibes, which you can then access via a browser from any computer, subscribing to feeds via the service and then viewing all your subscribed feeds together on the feed reader's site.

A full roundup of feed readers is beyond the scope of this post - see the Wikipedia list of feed aggregators - but you can get lots of free ones such as SharpReader for Windows, or the multi-platform podcast-dedicated Juice. I have an early beta version of the free multimedia friendly Fireant for Mac and Windows which supports text as well as podcasts (Juice doesn't do text, just media - though what's "media" anyway?):

Increasingly too, feed support is being built into browsers, e.g. the fab free browser Firefox has a basic built-in reader (more a feed subscriber really), known as "Live Bookmarks", plus you can get free feed reader extensions for Fox like Sage. The lightning quick free browser Opera has supported feeds for ages. And Internet Explorer 7 also has a feed reader built in, though earlier versions don't.

We're also seeing feeds being displayed not just in specialised feed readers but also as part of other kinds of info on personalised webpages or customizable webpages like My Yahoo!, via Google's iGoogle personalized homepage with Firefox toolbar integration e.g. through gadgets, or even MyBlogLog (e.g. this blog's MyBlogLog page) and the Blog Friends app on Facebook (more on Blog Friends), and even in people's blog sidebars. In fact, it's possible to display the content of feeds on any webpage just using some Javascript (talk about recursive!), and I'll be doing a separate post on feed display via Javascript. You can even get feeds on mobile phones, and not just through iGoogle.

Feed readers will normally display in a list all the feeds you subscribe to. You can then choose a particular feed to see the latest items from that feed (rather like choosing a folder in your email mailbox to see all the emails within that folder). Links within items will usually be clickable too.

Here's a screenshot of the Web-based Google Reader showing the feed from my pal Kirk's blog:

And here's Fireant showing the contents of a text feed:

While here's Fireant showing an MP3 podcast of Creative Commons-licensed music by Uwe Hermann - I can download individual songs and play them from within Fireant (controls at the top right of the window below):

(A side issue, but the beta 1.0 version of Fireant I have doesn't seem to be able to handle video enclosures properly e.g. from the Bloggerindraft blog - nothing at all. I hope later versions display Blogger video enclosures properly.)

Now, as well as what media types they can handle, readers differ also in how you view, filter and generally manage your subscribed feeds and individual items in the feed, how often to refresh the feed (check for new items in your subscribed feeds and download them), etc, and also as regards the level of control the user has. The most basic feed readers may be able to handle only text, but not podcasts (music files) and the like - or vice versa, e.g. as mentioned Juice handles MP3s but not blog posts text.

How do you subscribe to a newsfeed? - mechanics

In terms of mechanics, to subscribe to a particular feed manually you just:
  1. note the feed's Web address or URL (copying it to clipboard is of course the easiest way) - these days feed icons are standardised and you can get the feed URL by rightclicking on the standard orange feed icon , known as a "chicklet", shown on the site - and then copying the link or shortcut (which will be the feed's URL)
  2. launch or go to your feed reader of choice, if it's not already open
  3. go to the relevant "Add Feed" or similar function of your news reader (often it's a + icon)
  4. paste the feed address link and OK.
After subscribing to a feed, the new feed will be there in your list of feeds, and you can of course then view the added feeds in whichever way works for your reader.

But there are easier ways.

Auto-discovery - what is it?

Many feedreaders can even detect a site or blog's feed URL automatically from the site itself, if the blog or website has been set up to allow that, just by your giving the feed reader the site's main homepage URL. Many feed readers automatically detects the feed URL while you're on the site's webpage, you don't have to give it any further info. That's known as "feed autodiscovery". (I'll cover how to enable and provide prospective subscribers with auto-discovery for your own feed if you're a publisher, in part 2 of this series).

For instance, in the Firefox browser, if you're viewing a webpage which has auto-discovery enabled for its associated feeds you'll see the orange feed icon in the browser address bar, and if you click on the orange feed icon (a little obscured by the mouse in the pic below), it'll give you the option to subscribe. In the case of my blog, I offer readers a choice of 3 possible types of feeds as like others I don't believe in only excerpts (here's how to offer a choice); hence, clicking on the feed icon will list all 3 options to choose from:

There are other ways to autodiscover feed URLs too, if you're a potential subscriber - for instance the online feed aggregation service Bloglines offers users a special bookmarklet or favelet which you can add to you browser toolbar. Click that bookmark while you're on a website and it'll try to auto-discover and list the feeds available for that site or blog, so that you can then choose which ones you'd like to subscribe to via Bloglines.

Oddly, that favelet doesn't work on my blog main page, only offering the comments feed URL:

Whereas the bookmarklet does work properly when viewing individual post pages:

So, as you can see, autodiscovery isn't always foolproof. But in many cases, it does help speed things up for would-be subscribers.

How do newsfeeds work behind the scenes, in simple terms?

RSS (also sometimes known as Really Simple Syndication) is one main standard used by websites to syndicate their content, i.e. a feed file is a text file written in RSS format. The other well known standard format for feeds which you're likely to come across is newer and, many say, better: Atom. (There are in fact several flavours of RSS itself, confusingly. I won't go into the standards wars here. For the history see e.g. Wikipedia). "RSS feed" is sometimes used synonymously for "feed" or "newsfeed", even when referring to Atom feeds - a bit like "hoover" is used for "vacuum".

Obviously, you can view a feed published using RSS only if your reader supports RSS. And similarly with Atom feeds. However, most readers these days can handle both formats, so generally you don't need to worry about that.

To publish a feed, a web site or blogging platform basically takes the HTML file for the webpage or blog post and constructs a new file in RSS or Atom format out of it (the feed file usually ends in ".xml", but it could sometimes be something else like ".rdf" or ".aspx"). It is that specially-produced feed file which feed readers will download and display.

XML is, the way I think of it anyway, the big brother of HTML - which, as you know, is the language in which webpages are written behind the scenes so that they can be interpreted and displayed on your computer (relatively!) consistently by browsers such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and Opera. RSS and Atom are basically dialects of XML, and you could say that a feed file is written in a machine-readable way using RSS or Atom.

You don't need to know the coding ins & outs, the syntax for RSS or Atom, to be able to make use of feeds as a publisher or a subscriber. But if you want to, you can actually view the text of a .xml feed file, its underlying RSS or Atom code, via a text editor like Notepad - just as you can view the source of a webpage, which is really just a text file with the ending .html. Indeed, you can view a feed file direct in many browsers - just enter the feed's URL in the browser address bar. But just like the raw HTML of a webpage doesn't look very nice in view source or a text editor, similarly a feed often doesn't look very pretty in a browser, especially older browsers, as it was designed for software not humans - although more up to date browsers can in fact cope fine with their display. And although browsers are incorporating feedreading functionality, viewing a feed via a modern browser is still not as userfriendly, powerful or flexible as using a dedicated feed reader (or, if you prefer, just going in your browser to the original webpages which the feed file was based on). As an example, if you really want to see a feed in your browser click on this for my blog's RSS feed - opens in new window.

But what is in a feed file exactly? What info does the user get sent?

Now having said earlier that a webpage is converted into a feed file, that's not 100% accurate. It's not necessarily the whole of a website or even a single webpage which is converted to produce the feed.

With blogs, commonly it's only the main page or home page of the blog (and not post or item pages, or even archive pages), which is used as the source for the feed file. Or it's the latest X posts only whose contents are copied into the feed. (Those who have lots of control over their site and server where their blog files are stored may be able to create feeds from other pages or other parts of the site, but with most blogging platforms you won't have that level of control, they do what they do and that's it.)

With Blogger blogs, it used to be that the feed displayed exactly the number of posts set to be shown on your main page (so if you'd set your main page to show 10 posts, the feed would contain your 10 latest posts, if 50 then the latest 50 etc). But since since the rollout of the now feature complete fancy New Blogger, formerly known as Blogger Beta, despite its widgety goodness and enhanced developer-friendliness the default number shown in the base Blogger feed is now 25 posts - although there's a way to set Blogger to show more than 25 posts (or indeed fewer), which I'll cover in a later post.

So, taking the Blogger example, because the feed by default just reflects your last 25 posts, as you publish new posts the feed's content will inevitably change, with new posts added to the top of the feed "pushing off" the older posts from the bottom.

Effectively, whenever you publish a new post, Blogger knows to reconstruct your main blog page (what Blogger call the "index" page) - and, at the same time, it will also reconstruct your feed so that the feed will show the 25 newest posts as and when requested by a subscriber.

But remember that a blogging platform only automatically produces feed files if that feature is activated or enabled. It normally is, by default, but if you have problems you might want to check that. I deal with how to do that on Blogger later in part 2.

Also, in terms of the content of your feed, it's not necessarily the full text of each post that is shown in a feed - it could be excerpts only e.g. the first X characters of each post. I'll discuss that in more detail in part 2, but basically with a text feed the blog owner can tweak things to control how much (or how little) of each post is sent with the feed.

Feeds can contain text, but they can also contain links, e.g. Web hyperlinks. As I alluded to earlier, feeds have developed so that they can "transmit" not only text but also media like songs, videos etc. But the feed doesn't "include" or transmit full MP3 files, but rather links to those files. As long as the blogger / feed publisher has their site set up to produce the media feed properly by including special links to media files in a form recognised by feed readers, called "enclosures" (as to which see my podcasting intro), and the reader can cope with media files, then a subscriber can receive audio and video too, even PDF or Word documents etc, via a feed. See the screenshots of Fireant above, for instance.

How does the reader know when a feed has been updated?

As mentioned above, when you publish a new post your feed should automatically be updated by your blogging software constructing a new XML file to include the new post.

When I first heard about feeds I puzzled over the basic question of how a reader knows a feed has been updated before I found out that, often, it doesn't have to. When a user subscribes to a particular feed, what their reader does (assuming it's open and active, of course, where the feed reader is on their own computer) is to check every so often whether a subscribed feed has changed, and then fetch the changes back. How often it does this can usually be set in the options or preferences for the feed reader.

Using my personal shopper analogy, your personal shopper makes a note of the shops you want it to check and what it's fetched back for you so far from those shop windows, and you can tell it how often to check your fave shop windows for new wares. And then it does that. So your reader keeps track of the changes for you and monitors your feeds of choice for changes.

Confession: I rarely use feed readers, myself - somehow, the way my mind works, I prefer email alerts like Google Alerts. And in fact you can get feed updates via email, through services such as Feedblitz and Feedburner's email service. But I still need to know about feeds and I still have to provide them on my blog, because I know many people prefer them. And feeds are now important for many more reasons than just subscribers' convenience, as I've already mentioned.

In part 2, I'll go into more detail about ways to publish and publicise your own feed.