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Catching up with Reading Lists

OPML. OPML. OPML. How could I forget thee?

Reading lists are OPML documents that point to RSS feeds, like most of the OPML documents you find, but instead of subscribing to each feed in the document, the reader or aggregator subscribes to the OPML document itself. When the author of the OPML document adds a feed, the aggregator automatically checks that feed in its next scan, and (key point) when a feed is removed, the aggregator no longer checks that feed. THe editor of the OPML file can update all the subscribers by updating the OPML file. Think of it as sort of a mutual fund for subscriptions.

    OPML is a really useful file structure that just about everyone who uses a feed aggregator, like bloglines, is already using without necessarily knowing it. Most readers keep subscribed feeds for a user in OPML format, for easy importing and exporting. If you export your OPML feed you get a XML file of your feeds, which other feed readers understand.

    The problem with OPML files from readers is that they are static, meaning I can give you my OPML file but you will never know if I add or delete feeds unless I tell you and give you the new file. All you get is a snapshot of my feeds from the moment that I share my file with you. Dave [Winer] thinks these files should be dynamic, which means that I can share my opml file, or as he calls it my reading list, and anyone who subscribes to it will always have the current version, no matter how often I amend that list. There is very little technology needed to allow this to happen - the various feed readers simply need to agree to support dynamic lists and allow people to share them permanently. Dave’s trying to make this happen. If he succeeds, we’ll all be able to subscribe to reading lists from people we trust on a given subject, and good feeds will be that much easier to find. … In a comment, Eric Lin writes:

    I could easily see this not only as a way to share my reading list with others I know, but also to be matched with others I don't know with common interests. What if the system could match me with other people who have similar tech, music or lifestyle feeds as I do. It would be a fantastic way to make new connections as well as strengthen existing ones, and I could see communities forming around overlapping feeds. These communities might be stronger than those that form around a single website because they'd have more in common.

  • Nick Bradbury: Reading Lists for RSS
  • In a nutshell, the idea is that you'd subscribe to an OPML document which contains a list of feeds that someone is reading, some organization is recommending, or some service has generated (such as "Top 100" list). Changes to the source OPML document would be synchronized, so that you're automatically subscribed to feeds added to the reading list. Likewise, you'd be unsubscribed from feeds removed from the original OPML.

(Thoroughly indebted to Alex's post, Reading Lists = the killer app for OPML.)

The social aspect of OPML, 'communities forming around overlapping feeds', is really interesting.

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