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Bloggers: validate your feed on new entries, or you and your readers could suffer. Here's how

Note: This blog post is from 2008. Some content may be outdated--though not necessarily. Same with links and subsequent comments from myself or others. Corrections are welcome, in the comments. And I may revise the content as necessary.
Have you ever found (as a blogger or as a reader of a blog's feed) that sometimes it seems the feed just seems to stop working? It could be that it's become invalid. Here's a tip.

Bloggers: you really should validate your feed on every new submission. You never know when some special character you used (or copy/pasted from elsewhere) might make your feed invalid.

In this entry, I propose a couple of possible solutions, either that you may find or that you can easily add to your own blog.

Validating your feed. Does your blogging tool do it?

I imagine some blogging tools may even offer this as a feature. It's easy enough to validate one's feed with a tool like http://feedvalidator.org/. You can easily validate your own by adding your URL with http://feedvalidator.org/check.cgi?url=yoururl. (Technically, the value of yoururl should be URLEncoded.)

Validating it yourself on each new entry

If your blogging tool doesn't do that validation for you, here's another thought: you could easily do it yourself. Here's code I use to check the feed whenever a new entry is made. It looks at the validation result and sends me an email if it fails, which has saved my bacon a couple of times:

<cfhttp url="http://feedvalidator.org/check.cgi?url=#urlencodedformat("http://carehart.org/blog/client/rss.cfm?mode=full")#" resolveurl="Yes">

<div id="content">

<cfif cfhttp.filecontent does not contain "congratulations">
   <cfmail to="myemailaddress" from="myemailaddress" subject="Your Blog's RSS feed has failed" type="HTML">
      <p><a href="http://feedvalidator.org/check.cgi?url=#urlencodedformat("http://carehart.org/blog/client/rss.cfm?mode=full")#">http://feedvalidator.org/check.cgi?url=#urlencodedformat("http://carehart.org/blog/client/rss.cfm?mode=full")#</a></p>
      <h4>Validation Failed</h4>
      For http://carehart.org/blog/client/rss.cfm?mode=full. Email sent to myemailaddress.
      <p><a href="http://feedvalidator.org/check.cgi?url=#urlencodedformat("http://carehart.org/blog/client/rss.cfm?mode=full")#">http://feedvalidator.org/check.cgi?url=#urlencodedformat("http://carehart.org/blog/client/rss.cfm?mode=full")#</a></p>
      <h4>Validation passed.</h4>
      For http://carehart.org/blog/client/rss.cfm?mode=full passed.

Of course, you could just drop that code into your blogging code if you're comfortable doing that.

Using your blog tool's Ping feature

But if you don't want to edit your blogging code, you could do this just as easily with your blogging tool's ping feature, if it offers one. These are more typically used to provide one or more URLs which the blogging tool will call when you offer a new entry, such as to notify blog aggregators of your new entry (rather than waiting for them to come back to find your entry eventually).

You could use that same feature have it go to a URL on your own site that runs the code above. That's what I do.

Is there a service doing this already?

I suppose someone could set up a service to do this, letting you pass in the URL and email addresses. For now, I'm not in a position to do that on my own server for others. One would need to be careful not to let this be abused in any way. I also imagine it could get used by a lot of folks.

I kind of wonder why some free service hasn't yet been created to do this. Surely someone could find a way to monetize it. :-)

Anyone know of such a tool?

Anyway, there's the idea and the code above, if it may help.

PS: This is more than just for bloggers

BTW, this applies to more than just blogs. Anything where you add items that offer an RSS feed to read them, this would make sense, such as podcasts, news items, and more.

In fact, I've been meaning to write this entry for a long time, and was actually motivated when I came across some failing OPML for one of the CF blog aggregators today. I dropped a note to the owner, letting him know that someone had slipped in a bad character when they'd entered a new feed to him. I suggested he could benefit from this idea (as would others), and that I'd blog about it. There you have it.

CF Bloggers of the world, unite: come join a new google group to work together

Note: This blog post is from 2007. Some content may be outdated--though not necessarily. Same with links and subsequent comments from myself or others. Corrections are welcome, in the comments. And I may revise the content as necessary.
Are you a CF blogger? I had a thought recently: we could probably share a lot with each other to make the most of our blogging efforts to the CF community.

For instance, Pete Freitag had a really neat tip today on optimizing your RSS feed to keep better manage traffic.

Regardless of which blogging software we use, we still serve the same CF community and just as we've all learned from and contribute to that community, we probably also know some useful tips and resources to share with each other about our blogging efforts.

So I created a new google group today, http://groups.google.com/group/cfbloggers, and I'm inviting all CF bloggers to join.

Sure, there are resources out there for all bloggers (like www.performancing.com), but I wanted to create something just for our community, without the traffic of the noisy broader world of bloggers, as well as to perhaps focus on issues of interest just to us, such as how we can organize our info better (perhaps together) for the CF community, how to monetize our blogs (maybe create a CF community-specific ad banner mechanism), how to solve common blogging-related problems (like aggregation and feed validation), and so on.

NOT another place to discuss CF

I don't mean for this to be yet another place to discuss CF questions and issues with each other. We all already have plenty of places to do that.

Joining the Group

For now, I've made it a private group. People must either be invited or request to join, and the discussions are not made public. I think that may be best to permit people to speak frankly. We can discuss if it should be made publicly viewable, but I'd propose that joining always be moderated to keep out folks who are not truly CF bloggers.

  • If you have a google account already, just login and join, which you can do in one step
  • If you don't want to create a google account (needed only if you want to access the web interface), you can also drop me a note via the group join interface and I'll just add you to the list and you'll start getting mail whenever folks send a note to the list.

Of course, you don't need a gmail address or account to join. Any address will do.

Who was pre-invited to join?

I was torn between not inviting anyone (and hoping it would spread by word of mouth, emails, and blogging) and seeding the list with at least several folks to start. I decided the latter was a better choice, at the risk of offending anyone I might leave out. To avoid an incredible effort to think of/find all CF bloggers, I instead just used the list of names of bloggers in the "last 72 hours" display on FullAsAGoog's CF category, at the time I created the blog.

If I had their email address or could find it quickly, I used it. And while typing their names into an outgoing email, if my email client showed me other folks with the same first name, etc, I added them to the list.

I'm sure I've left off many. No offense intended at all. That's why I'm doing this blog entry (but I realize that won't reach most of the CF bloggers, so feel free to spread the word.)

If you know anyone else who wants to join, have them use the links above.

Should be low-volume, which is good

I suspect this will be a low-volume list, except for spurts that surround interesting discussions, so I'd hope it would not add a burden to your inbox, but rather would be valuable even if you only got one new idea a month.

Hope you'll join at least for a while.

Do you blog? Do you identify yourself on your blog? Please do!

Note: This blog post is from 2006. Some content may be outdated--though not necessarily. Same with links and subsequent comments from myself or others. Corrections are welcome, in the comments. And I may revise the content as necessary.
I'm so surprised by how many blogs I come across where the blogger has not identified themselves in any way: no name, no bio, no email link. I suppose some may do it intentionally, as some form of anonymity (and I do realize why some may not want to list their email), but I honestly think most just had't thought about whether to list their name or anything more.

I'd like to put out a plea to at least consider listing your name, either in your title ("clever name - by blogger name"), or just in some text below it, or in your toolbar. Better still would be a small bio, or a link to a page that has one. (Maybe it would help if blog software offered an "about" pod that made you think of it more readily.) A photo would be nice, too. And for reasons (and with cautions) I propose below, I recommend you also list your email address.

Why bother with name, bio, and/or email? Because it's in your interest!

There are a couple of reasons to consider it, and they help both you and your readers.

First, as for listing at least your name, a good reason is simply to associate yourself with all the value you create by your blog. Why not get credit for your work? Plus, many would really like to know who you are. (And if your blog software puts a tiny "by" under each blog entry, I'll argue that's not enough. I've missed that myself on more than one site.) Again, whether in the title, below it, or in the toolbar, just put it somewhere! :-)

As for a bio, again, even just a couple sentences about yourself (below the title or in the toolbar) can really personalize the blog. Don't assume everyone knows your background, even if they know you by name. Many readers will appreciate knowing more about where you work, where you're from, etc. Such details can also lend perspective to what you write about. (For instance, if you're a fan or a foe of something where that would color all of your posts, it can be helpful for people to realize, "oh, he works for them|on that open source project|with that tool| etc.)." Let people know where you're coming from.) But at least consider offering some background, even a single sentence.

Finally, as for your email address, someone may want to contact you to offer feedback that's not specific to a post. They may want to offer you work (and not want to announce that in a blog comment)--and even then, which post should they enter such a generic note to you in, anyway? Keep in mind that not all readers realize that you get notified of all comments by email, so they may give up trying to contact you.

Heck, they may even have trouble posting a comment, and therefore need *some* way to contact you. I've certainly seen that before.

But isn't it bad to post your email address online?

OK, I realize you may not want to offer your email, as spambots will capture it. But you've probably noticed more and more people listing their addresses as "name (at) domain". The thinking is that people can figure that out, but spambots (at least the dummer ones) will not. I'll grant that they'll eventually catch on. You just need to way how important the benefits are against the pain of more spam. (You do have a spam catching program, I hope? I love the one I use, Cloudmark Desktop. No, it's not free, but there are certainly many of them you can check out.)

Be careful using that (at) trick with Mailto links
If you do decide to use the (at) approach, but you also offer a mailto link, like:

be careful: you need to list the "anti-spammer" address in the mailto (used to launch the email) as well as between the a tags (as shown to the user). Spambots grab all the text on your page, not just what's "visible". This is a pain, because then in the email that's opened the user must notice that you've done this and change it, or the mail will fail to get to you. What I do is explain to the user that by forcing some body text into the mail that's opened. Did you know that was possible?

<a href="mailto:charlie (at) carehart.org?body=please change the spam-fighting email address format I filled in for you, replacing the (at)!">charlie (at) carehart.org</a>

And for those who maybe already knew about it, did you know that you could also use:

<a href="http://tipicalcharlie.blog-city.com/forcing_a_line_break_in_an_html_email_link.htm">force a line break within such content in an HTML email link</a>
(this is from another blog of mine, typicalcharlie.com, which is for generic, non-CF tips)

So please, bloggers, step up and identify yourself. We'll all appreciate it!

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