Merlin RSS Feeds: Really Simple Syndication for PBS Stations


RSSEarlier this year, the SPI team explained the basics of RSS feeds and XML terminology.  It's no surprise - RSS technology has been leaving a widespread mark on the Internet since about 2005.  Feeds provide an easy way for readers to keep up with news and information while avoiding the traditional and time-consuming method of browsing several websites to obtain new content.  Many of today's tech-savvy Internet wizards use RSS feeds as a tool to aggregate information from their favorite online destinations.  Popular services like Google Reader allow users to view streams of content at a single location, while new smartphone apps like Byline provide a similar experience on mobile devices across the globe.

As far as we know, a certain PBS-affiliated wizard didn't have an RSS-powered smartphone helping him manage information while he was working in the kingdom of Camelot.  Fortunately, Merlin has long forgotten the antiquated days of his youth and, in the spirit of the 21st century, has embraced RSS technology as a part of his futuristic Internet wizardry.  The new Merlin-powered PBS.org will make full use of this powerful tool as a method to easily retrieve and display the latest content from local stations.  However, it should be noted that stations seeking to take advantage of this feature will need to be familiar with RSS2.0 and XML coding.

To better serve the needs of stations and producers, the PBS.org tech team has built a powerful custom RSS specification.  While all the standard RSS 2.0 specifications are still in place, many exciting new XML elements have been added, including expiration dates for time-sensitive content and 'buy now' links for video elements that are available for purchase.  However, to ensure that RSS content is displayed correctly on the new PBS.org, a few restrictions have also been placed on specific item elements: Item titles are limited to 60 characters, descriptions are limited to 400 characters, short descriptions are limited to 90 characters, and images should only be used if they have 16:9 ratios.  For much more detailed information about custom XML elements, please read our RSS 2.0 Specification.

In recent weeks, the SPI team has been working with its dauntless team of Merlin pilot stations to test and draft best practices for RSS feed integration on the new PBS.org.  So far, they have determined that it will be best for PBS stations to create a new Merlin-specific feed or revise their current RSS feeds so that they can automatically publish specific local content.  It should be noted that a Merlin-specific feed might not be the ideal option for everyone.  For example, if a station only wants to publish three blog updates through Merlin every month, it would likely be easier to simply submit those items manually via the Merlin Admin Tool.

As PBS continues to gear up to launch the new PBS.org, the SPI team will be collecting additional recommendations from the Merlin pilot group.  Keep your eyes on our blog!  We'll be sharing more tips that can help your station create powerful and robust feeds for today's Internet audiences.  For more information about the project, be sure to visit the SRC Merlin Resource Center.

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