Icons, feedicons, and favicons

A long time ago, when I first started dabbling with Windows programming (Windows version 2, for the new 286 machines!), I first learned about the .ICO file. These files provided the icons that represented your programs. Of course, the interesting thing about the file format was that it wasn't a single graphic, like a .GIF or .BMP file, but a container for one or more graphics.

Fast-forward to today. Every time you visit a website, using a reasonably modern browser like IE6 or Firefox, a little 16x16-pixel icon shows up next to the URL for the site, and that same icon often ends up in other places, like your bookmarks. This is generally known as a favicon, because it was originally introduced by Microsoft around the same time they decided that bookmarks should really be called favorites, much to the dismay of spelling teachers in the UK. Anyway, it turns out that the file needed on a website to make this particular magic happen is, as my foreshadowing may have indicated, a .ICO file.

Now, as the web progresses and morphs, one of the most important concepts to come along is that of the feed. Rather than surf to a bunch of different news sites, blogs, and boobie galleries web comics to see if there's anything new to peruse, sites provide feeds — basically, a place on the website that a computer program can look to see what's new. Then, such a program, called an aggregator, can provide a central place to see today's web at a glance. Aggregators can be installed programs or web-based. I use a web-based one called Bloglines.

You may think I'm rambling a bit, but the topic is still icons. You see, the Firefox browser understood that feeds were important, and provided a special icon to show whether a web site had a feed available. By default, when clicked, it would create something called a "Live Bookmark", but you can install a Firefox extension (and I have) which will add the feed to Bloglines for me when I click. This icon is known as a feedicon. Now, Microsoft has a new version of IE coming down the pike, and they've gotten the feed religion as well. In an unprecedented show of good sense, Microsoft has decided to use the same icon as Firefox.

To capitalize on this lining up of the planets, a website has been established to crown this icon as the standard identifier of feeds: feedicons.com. Now, I thought this was a good idea, and wanted to use the standard icon over on my left sidebar here in Blogger land. So, I wondered. Will the HTML IMG tag work with a .ICO file? If so, all I have to do is reference the favicon of feedicons.com!

Well, I've done so, and it works with Firefox 1.5, at least. Please let me know if you see the little icon next to the "XML (Atom)" over on the left.

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