Tech Tip (LISTSERV) – Issue 3 – 2008

Q: How can LISTSERV's RSS support help subscribers monitor list traffic more effectively?

Answer by Tom McDaniel
Research and Programming Consultant, L-Soft

By design, Internet content is evolutionary and expanding. Each day finds more news, more blog entries and more discussion list postings that demand the attention of Internet users. Being disparate, these Internet sources typically require a user to visit site after site to monitor traffic. With updates occurring irregularly and without notice, this daily search results in a loss of time and energy by the user, often coupled with lost productivity on the part of an employer.

Wouldn't it be great if you could get all those updates delivered to you, in real time, without cluttering up your inbox? Ladies and gentlemen, presenting the concept of aggregation.

Aggregation is the concept of compiling content from various sources into a single location (such as a website or a desktop application). From the perspective of a client, monitoring, parsing and compiling this information is clearly impractical. With information published in so many different formats and at irregular intervals, there's no way your computer could actively monitor all the sites you do on a regular basis. This is where the RSS standard saves the day.

RSS is a standardized format for publishing frequently updated content over the Internet. Based on XML, an RSS feed is a publicly available channel that contains summarized text and metadata (author, date of publication, etc.) for each update to the primary content. In order to include an RSS feed in one's aggregator (or RSS reader), a user simply subscribes by either telling the reader the URL of the feed or clicking on a button to initiate the subscription.

Clearly, LISTSERV discussion and announcement lists are a prime candidate for aggregation. While email notification is sufficient for subscribers actively participating in list discussion or receiving periodic announcements, too many postings will quickly clutter the recipient's inbox and potentially result in email fatigue. RSS support ships out of the box with LISTSERV 15.5, so recipients can subscribe to list archive feeds and integrate new postings seamlessly into their existing reader.

To subscribe to a LISTSERV RSS feed, users need only click the ATOM, RSS1, or RSS2 buttons (RSS Icons) presented on the list archive page and follow the procedure for adding the feed to their particular RSS reader.

Since archive RSS support is inherent in LISTSERV version 15.5, no special configuration is required on the part of list owner or site administrator. However, the RSS abstracting feature may be optionally configured at the site and list level. An RSS abstract is the summarized content presented in the aggregated feed. These abstracts are generated implicitly from the text of the message but they may be specified explicitly as well. Minimum and maximum word counts for the abstract can be bound by the following list configuration keyword:

RSS-Abstract-Words= max[, min]

More information on RSS abstract support and re-indexing of archives is available in Section 1.2.5 of the LISTSERV 15.5 What's New Manual.

As always, L-Soft's world-class support, training and consulting staff are available to assist you with the particulars of RSS support in LISTSERV. Please contact your L-Soft sales representative at: or L-Soft customer support at: for details.

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