Syndication Sharing Content Across Websites
Posted on 30 Apr 2003
by Rutger Engelhard & Sebastiaan (svdvliet)
Rated 4.22 (Ratings: 11)
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The Internet is rapidly becoming a popular way todisseminate content or to collect and redistribute it via other websites andintranets. The term syndication was originally used in the world of print media torefer to a news agency that sells news articles, comic strips or crossword puzzlesto many newspapers under the assumption that readers buy only one of them. On theweb, the idea of content syndication is basically similar - one party makes thecontent of its website available in such a manner that many other parties can pickit up via the Internet, automatically and as often as needed.
Not only news agencies use syndication to distribute their news. Record companies syndicate advertisementspromoting their latest album releases, which are picked up and used by musicretailers to add value to their websites. Similarly, international corporationssyndicate business information, and stock exchanges around the world publish shareprices in real time. Banks, investment brokers and institutional investors pick upthese newsfeeds to monitor developments in a particular industry sector or even inspecific companies and to watch trends in the stock markets.
Syndicated content is distributed via so-called
newsfeeds that are received and displayed on other
How can content syndication benefit your organization?
The decision as to whether your organization actually needs to adopt contentsyndication, and how best to use this Internet technology, will depend on yourorganization's mission, and the purpose and functions of your website. For example:
- Content distribution: Your organization wishes to promote the information servicesoffered by your website. Applying syndication, you can offer a newsfeed via whichheadlines and links to the content on your site can be picked up by any number oforganizations and displayed on their websites or intranets.
- Content gathering: Your organization wishes to monitor developments in a particular field of interest.You can pick up other organizations' newsfeeds (one or more) and display theheadlines and links on your intranet. In this way, your staff will be able to access- via your intranet - daily updated headline news from various selected websites.This feature of content syndication could also add value to your website bydisplaying the latest headline news and links of selected organizations on yourwebsite. This could be useful, for example, if your organization is preparing aconference, conducting an advocacy campaign, or monitoring a specific situation,such as a regional conflict.
- Content brokering: Your organization functions as aknowledge centre, and wishes both to distribute and to gather content related to oneor more topics. In this case, you could strengthen your organization's position bydistributing your own content as well as providing web pages where visitors can findthematic headline information with links to the complete articles posted on a largenumber of other sites.
- Content networking: Your organization is part of aknowledge sharing network that wishes to exchange content among the members on aregular basis. For this, each participating organization could install a newsfeed onits website and pick up the headlines and links provided by the other networkmembers.
These are still early days for content syndication, and new applications of thisnovel means of exchanging and sharing information are actively being explored. Forexample, content syndication can be used to compile automatically the content ofemail newsletters, as well as to update discussion forums, conference agendas,theatre programmes, or sales promotion campaigns for games, photos and software.
What Exactly Is Content Syndication?
Content syndication on the web refers to a technology that facilitates the distribution of content from one computer to anynumber of other computers via the Internet. Content syndication does not entail thedistribution of the complete articles, images or files. Rather, it offersinformation about the website where the content can be found, and headlineinformation with links to the web pages where the complete content can be accessed.The basic element of content syndication is the syndication file, which is locatedon the web server of the distributor of the content. This file contains informationabout the site, the headlines and the links to web pages containing the content.
For example, the syndication file on the server of a newspaper could include:
- thetitle of the newspaper;
- the headlines of articles published on its website; and
- links to the full texts of these articles. An example of such a syndicationfile can be viewed by opening the BBC's news syndication file in your browser.
Content syndication was first popularized by Netscape in 1999, for adding and updating newsfrom selected web sources to its personalized My.Netscape pages.For this purpose, Netscape developed RSS ('Rich SiteSummary' or renamed by some: 'Really Simple Syndication'), a format for syndication files based onXML, a computer language used for describing, storing and exchanging information.
With these RSS files, Netscape no longer required an army of editors to gathercontent to fill its ever-growing portal. Instead, webmasters or content distributorscould create newsfeeds by placing RSS files on their servers and submittinginformation about their exact location. All that Netscape then needed to do was tocollect these newsfeeds at regular intervals and display their contents on itsportal, thus offering its visitors a continuously updated set of headlines and linksto the latest information posted on many websites.
Netscape thus created a mutuallybeneficial relationship between the visitors to its portal and the contentdistributors. The visitors could view the latest news headlines published on a widerange of websites from which they could make their own selection, and the contentdistributors benefited from the increased numbers of visitors who followed the linksattached to the headlines to their websites.
News can be syndicated directly among websites or intranets, or it can be gathered by so-calledsyndication servers, or content aggregators, that bring together many newsfeeds in acentral location. Examples include Moreover,Syndic8 and News is Free.
These syndicationservers offer many facilities for selecting newsfeeds (e.g. BBC World News, SciDevor Oneworld) and displaying their content in a variety of ways. For example,syndicated content from selected newsfeeds can be included on an organization'swebsite simply by cutting and pasting a single line of code into the HTML code ofthe webpage where this content is to be displayed. Once this code has been inserted,any changes in the content (such as new articles added to or old ones deleted fromthe BBC World News section or Oneworld site) are reflected in the headlineinformation and links displayed on your website.
What Issues Need to be Addressed?
From the point of view of the management of an organization, the main challengesposed by content syndication are not technical. Content syndication is a low-techInternet technology that does not require new equipment or software. All yourtechnical team has to do is to create a newsfeed by placing an RSS file on your webserver, and keep it up to date. If your website has been set up on the basis of acontent management system, a function can be added to generate an RSS file and to update it automaticallywhenever the content of your website is changed. Otherwise, changes to an RSS filecan be made manually using a simple word processor such as Notepad, or with so-called 'scrapers', i.e. services available on the web to generate and automaticallyupdate an RSS file (e.g. myRSS).
For any organization that decides to take advantage of content syndication, the major challenges arerelated to the generation and regular maintenance of the content, as well as theselection of newsfeeds to appear on your website or intranet. For example,
- If youdecide to syndicate your organization's web content, considerable effort will beneeded on an ongoing basis to ensure the quality of the information, in terms ofstyle, clarity and timeliness. For instance, if a visitor clicks on an eye-catchingheadline, but this leads only to a dull, incomprehensible and/or out of date pieceof text on your site this will do nothing to enhance your organization's image andcredibility, and that visitor is unlikely to return.
- Alternatively, if you decideto include the newsfeeds of other organizations on your own website, then these mustbe chosen with care. A poor selection of newsfeeds may result in a display ofheadlines that may be inappropriate for your site - for example, the scope may betoo broad, they may be promoting own institutional or donors' interests, etc.
In short, if you wish to engage your organization - as a content distributor, gatherer,broker or net worker - in content syndication, you may need to review yourinformation and communication strategy to ensure that high priority is given to thecontent management of your website or intranet.