The Times RSS feeds are broken
When I reviewed The Times web site the other week, I was generally complimentary about it, and the site's overall provision of RSS feeds, even if I was a little bit unhappy that they were not using the standard orange RSS icon.
However, my qualms about the blue "Newsfeed" logo are nothing compared to something I discovered this afternoon when doing some more research on newspaper RSS feeds.
The Times RSS feeds are broken.
I don't know whether this problem has existed since the site was re-designed, or is a temporary glitch, but at the time of writing, every single link in their news feeds is wrong.
In the XML The Times is publishing a relative link to their individual stories - rather than the absolute link that is required for a feed reader to know where to look for the content.
Instead of linking to http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/article1747562.ece for example, the links in their RSS feeds are without The Times domain name in front of them.
Presented with just /tol/news/world/article1747562.ece, a browser doesn't know it is supposed to be looking on The Times site.
This is in breach of the RSS 2.0 specifications, which state that:
RSS places restrictions on the first non-whitespace characters of the data in <link> and <url> elements. The data in these elements must begin with an IANA-registered URI scheme, such as http://, https://, news://, mailto: and ftp://
Funnily enough, when I try and follow a link from their RSS feeds in Bloglines using Firefox, I don't actually end up with an error message.
The browser does its best to interpret a protocol free URL that simply starts /tol/, and so re-directs me to a site called Transitions Online.
This site is at http://www.tol.cz, which is, I guess, the best match Firefox can find.
Transitions Online must get an awful lot of strange error messages in their logfiles, from people trying to view content from The Times via RSS.
Of course, the RSS feeds still work to an extent - subscribers get to see a selection of headlines and summaries from their chosen feed.
But, like all the newspapers I reviewed in the last fortnight, the reason that The Times only publishes excerpts in their RSS feed is to encourage users to click through to read the full story on site, and thus drive advertising revenue.
At the moment, the RSS feeds from The Times are nothing but a dead end for their users.
Yes, it's rather embarrassing. Our feeds have been broken since the relaunch. The problem is caused by the various subdomains we use on the site (business.timesonline.co.uk, driving.timesonline.co.uk). Because a few news readers (google reader and some software readers) work - rather bafflingly - with relative URLs, this was seen as a fix. Not by me, because I use bloglines, which doesn't work. Anyway, the feeds don't fit the RSS specification.
Our systems people know about it, and the fix is available, but it's something that will come with a bundle of changes - it's more than a config change in some RSS module.
Apologies to everyone (like me) who used to rely on our feeds and now can't. By way of small compensation, the feeds from our many fine blogs: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/blogs/ are working fine, because the blogs are hosted on Typepad.
Tom Whitwell, Communities Editor, Times Online