RSS what a mess, publishers have made of it

Web 2.0 is in vogue. Library 2.0 seems even hipper.

One of the consistent examples for a good 2.0 library is the implementation of RSS feeds. RSS-ify your news items, your latest acquisitions and more. A logical extension of a RSS-ified library is a feed for each and every journal in the catalogue. Perhaps not a good idea to make them for each and every journal yourself, but as an aggregator of services the e-journals catalogue is a good place to offer them. So far so good. Where do you get them? At the publishers sites of course. That is where the pain starts. I only whish there was some logic, some coherence, some consistency in the way publishers would offer RSS feeds for new journal content.

Some examples?

American Chemical Society publishes Journal of agricultural and food chemistry the feed looks like some illogical journal abbreviation specifies the journal. With ACS you could have expected a RSS feed based on the CODEN at least. Let alone for ISSN.

Biomed Central publishes BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine the feeds of most BMC journals are based on the journal title but in this particular instance the feed is

Blackwell publishes Ecological Entomology the feed looks like, the jc=een refers to the journal under investigation.

Cambridge Journals publishes Experimental Agriculture the feeds is the following … Oops. Your can’t. You get the following message: To continue this action you will need to login to CJO with your username or password. If you are a new visitor please register here.

Elsevier has a similar problem as Cambridge has. You need to be logged in to the ScienceDirect platform to subscribe to some feeds. Many feed options, yes that’s true. But simple RSS feeds on new journal content is a bit more difficult than straightforward.

Oxford has a great journal in Annals of Botany. Oxford offers a range of feeds for the journal, but the current issue feed looks as follows, i.e. based on some sort of journal abbreviation.

Sage publishes amongst others the Journal of information science the feed is to be found at

Springer is the publisher of Scientometrics which RSS feed is to be found at where the number in the feed has no relation whatsoever to the ISSN.

Taylor & Francis has amongst others the journal Acta Agriculturae Scandinavica, Section A – Animal Sciences which feed is to be found at Don’t be mislead, the last number is not an ISSN. The ISSN of this journal is 0906-4702 (to be found is the XML page behind the feed)

Wiley Interscience publishes the Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology. It’s RSS is to be found at It looks deceptive, but the number at the end is not the ISSN of course. Those are 1532-2882 for the paper edition and 1532-2890 for the electronic form.

So many publishers, so many different RSS feeds. Hello wake up! We as libraries are their customers. We have to make clear that this is not an acceptable policy. Of course we can wait for yet another player in the information provision chain to sort it out for us. But what is needed is some simple and logic reasoning. We don’t need to invent yet another DOI system or an open URL system. A basic URL for a journal’s feed should look like this:

http://<base url>/<ISSN>/feed

Where the base url is something like the url of the publishers or aggragtors platform. Something like or The ISSN is preferably the paper issn -since that is available in most catalogues. If not that an e-issn is required. And the feed should end like <feed>, wether RSS 0.92, 2.0 or Atom. Deceptively simple, yet not a publisher has thought this up.

Come on publishers agree with each other and standardize on a standard for journal content notifications.

13 thoughts on “RSS what a mess, publishers have made of it”

  1. Feeds are using XML syntax and an end tag is always with a slash so it should be anyway. These formats are probably messier than anything the publishers can cause, but let’s stick with these four. RSS 0.91 and 2.0 start with and end with ; RSS 1.0 starts with and end with . Atom indeed starts with and ends with . For most purposes all formats do the same.

  2. Like we did with our Table of Contents journals?

    Three elements:


    Title of journal:

    We added the title of the journal to provide readers with extra information. This information can be used instantly while presenting the journal in a recognizable way in your rss reader.

  3. @Hugo
    You are referring to the actual xml files which should comply to either RSS or Atom standards. My point however, is the mess of URL’s that publishers make of the URL pointing to the xml file. That should also be standardised, to make life less complicated.

  4. This is the RSS structure for Cambridge journals: . So your Experimental Botany’s RSS feed would be (current issue).
    For the Peace Palace Library we made the RSS feed for our TOC journals ourselves; for the other journals I have explored the RSS feed structure of Cambridge, Ingenta, Oxford and Sage. To make those feeds you need the journal’s journal key or journal abbreviation. All RSS feeds appear in our link resolver plinklet. The RSS feeds are indeed a big mess.

  5. @Kattebelletje
    What you describe was what we intended to do. But since it is such a mess, that part of the project received a lower priority. So we still have to do it.


  6. BioMed Central actually went to significant lengths to have a simple, predictable RSS URL format.

    From any BioMed Central journal home page, simply add /rss to get the RSS feed.

    Our BMC series journal URLs are based on the standard PubMed abbreviation of the journal, so:
    BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine
    abbreviated as
    BMC Complement Altern Med
    has a URL of
    and an RSS feed of

    We also use a tag to enable autodiscovery of the feed.

    Also, a quick google of:
    BioMed Central OPML

    Will find you: journals/biomedcentraljournallist.opml
    A dynamic list of BioMed Central’s feeds in the standard OPML forward.

    We also have CSV and MARC versions of this journal list available…


  7. BioMed Central actually goes to significant lengths to use simple and logical URLs for its RSS feeds.

    In all cases, the RSS feed URL is simply the journal home page URL, followed by /RSS/

    We also use tag on each journal web page, to enable RSS feed autodiscovery.

    In the case of the BMC-series of journals, the URL is based on the standard PubMed abbreviation:
    BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine
    is abbreviated as
    BMC Complement Altern Med
    and so the home page is
    and the RSS feed is

    A quick google for: BioMed Central OPML
    a dynamic list of all our journal feeds in standard OPML format.

    We also make our journal catalog data available as CSV and MARC.

    Hope this helps…


  8. @Matthew,
    I do appreciate the way BMC is handeling this issue, but as a user, we face many publishers doing it all their own way. Journal abbreviations in most cases are not based on ISO standards, or any other standard, so that it is not going to help when you are dealing with 10,000 journals and some 1000 different publishers.

  9. @wowter

    I understand now that you were referring to the file extension that you wanted to harmonize when you said that everything should end with “feed” (rather than the XML itself) I would suggest to use a standard file extension “.xml”. It is less likely to cause trouble if a feed is opened in a browser than other file extensions like “.rss” of “.rdf” (sometimes used for rss 1.0)

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