OPML Files- Other Peoples Meaningful Lists

Have you ever browsed the web and seen a reference to OPML? If you were to look up the abbreviation, you would see it stands for “outline processor markup language”. It describes outline-based content like subscriptions, podcasts, outlines, and To Do lists in a hierarchical structure. I think a better representation is other people’s meaningful lists”.

What is an OPML File

OPML is a versatile cross-platform file format developed by Dave Winer. It uses extensible markup language (XML) that can be used for many things. For me, the beauty comes from sharing RSS feed information. For example, when I did my RSS guide, I suggested people import an OPML file to test their RSS readers for features.

Rather than having the reviewers add 11 RSS feeds, they could import my OPML file. This reduced steps for them and ensured everyone used the same feed list. OPML files made the process consistent and efficient. The file format is also used as the file format when you import or export between like-type applications.

Uses for OPML Files

My example above is a simple one. You can probably think of several lists where you would like to share information with others. These lists could be work-related or some hobby you enjoy. It doesn’t matter. You need to collect the RSS feeds you love. Here are some examples,

  • Book clubs could share a file containing book review feeds for their members.
  • A sales team could share a list of the competitor’s feeds
  • Bargain hunters could share a list of their favorite coupon feeds
  • System administrators could have a list of security feeds
  • Families could produce a list of their photos, websites and local news
  • You could share with friends a list of your top 10 bloggers

OPML File Examples

I first started playing around with OPML when Google decided to shutter its popular RSS product, Google Reader. Fortunately, I could export the feeds I subscribed to and enter a feed into my new reader, Feedly. This same process could be used should I choose a different reader.

Feedly Export OPML File

Feedly is pretty good about exporting your feed listings. They have a dedicated URL at https://feedly.com/i/opml.

Feedly OPML file format.
My Feedly OPML file in VS Code
  1. Title provided by Feedly
  2. An example of a Feed category – “Automation”. I defined this in Feedly.
  3. The title of the feed – “The Zapier Blog”
  4. xmlURL – the location of the XML feed.
  5. htmlURL – location of the web page. This file is optional for some applications, such as podcasts.

PocketCasts Export OPML File

PocketCasts is my current podcast app; I don’t recall which one I used before. Like with Feedly, I could import an OPML file to get started. This saved me from resubscribing to all of them. As you can see in the image, the file structure is similar to Feedly. The main difference is there is no htmlURL field. It’s not required for podcasts.

Pocketcasts OPML file.
My PocketCasts Subscriptions in OPML

How to Create an OPML File

As I mentioned earlier, OPML files can be used for many applications, so you may see different structures than my RSS listing and podcasts. Some mind mapping and outlining programs also use OPML.

Although I could’ve used an OPML editor to create files, I tend to use my reader or podcast player. In some cases, you may find that there isn’t parity between the desktop and mobile app versions. For example, I can import and export OPML files with the PocketCasts mobile app but not the desktop.

Use ChatGPT to Create OPML Files

You can also use ChatGPT to create files for you. My Feedly file has quite a few entries. I’d have to manipulate the file if I needed to send someone just my WordPress feeds. And that assumes I know which ones are WordPress. Maybe I didn’t put them in the correct category, etc.

However, ChatGPT-4 now has a feature called “Code Interpreter”. When I asked ChatGPT if I could upload a CSV file with the Feed titles, type, xmlUrl and htmlUrl, it said it could construct the OPML file. And I could do the reverse. In the example below, I had the service convert my Feedly OPML file to a CSV.

Convert OPML file to CSV file format.
Converted OPML file to CSV

It would be easier for me to use this CSV file to find the feeds I wanted to share. I could create an Excel formula to check for specific text. From there, I can do the reverse and have ChatGPT create another OPML file from the uploaded CSV.

CSV File Converted to OPML with ChatGPT

The Other Benefits of OPML Files

Even if you don’t like to share, there are two other reasons why you want to create OPML files.

  1. These can be backup files if something happens to your feed reader or podcast app. (Think back to Google Reader closing down.)  The file retains your feed information, so you don’t need to re-enter it.
  2. If you ever want to try another reader, the OPML file is essential. All you need to do is to import the file into your newsreader, and you’re set to go.