Sunday, March 2, 2008

RSS for the Net Impaired

How many times have you looking on the internet and found something interesting on a site and thought to yourself, this is an interesting site, I would like to come back and check it out later. You could save the site under a bookmark or favorite, but if you’re like many other people out there your bookmarked favorites are so disorganized that you hardly use them except for sites that you go to all the time. There is another way to find out when there is new content on interesting websites, you can do this by subscribing to that website.

You have probably run across many of the icons in the picture above and wondered what they do (or maybe you never gave them a second thought, because you were focused on your search). These icons indicate that you can subscribe to a website or blog via email or RSS. Email subscription means that you would be notified via email when there is new content at the website. RSS is an acronym for Really Simple Syndication that can update you when there is new content on your selected websites.

An RSS document, often called a “feed”, “webfeed” or “chanel” will contain a summary or entire text from the selected website. This would then be sent to a “RSS reader”, “feed reader” or “aggregator”. You can think of RSS as the newspapers of the 21st century. By “subscribing” to websites that you like or find interesting, you’ll be able to

  • Know when there is new content at your selected websites
  • See at a glance if there is anything that you want to read at your subscribed sites.
  • If there is material that you wish to read, you’re only a click or two away from the content at the website where it was published
  • Save time by not going to websites when there is nothing new (especially handy when new material isn’t posted on a regular schedule)
  • Easily find the website you find interesting without worrying about where you put the bookmark to it (also saving time)
  • Be more in control of your surfing habits because you select what you subscribe to and not somebody else

How do I get an “RSS reader”? There are many different readers out there that you can use and they generally fall into two types. There are “RSS readers” that are tied to your computer. Newz Crawler, FeedDemon, and Awasu are some that can be used with Windows. Newsfire and NetNewsWire can be used with MAC. There are also “RSS readers that are or can be integrated into your browser for use in Internet Explorer, Firefox, and so on. These readers are handy because once you’ve selected and set them up, they’re in the web browser that you actually use. While this is handy if you’re only on one computer or are the only user of that computer, it isn’t mobile. The second type is a service that you access through a website. Chances are that there is an “RSS reader” available through your ISP (internet service provider). Yahoo!, AOL, MSN, and Google (Reader and Homepage) all offer their own versions. There are a host of other web services that provide “RSS readers”, some more popular one include Bloglines, Newsburst, NewsGator, NetVibes, PageFlakes, Lektora, and Pluck.

After installing or signing up for your reader, you can start adding feeds. How you do this will vary from program to program. In Bloglines there is a tab called "feed" and you click on "ADD" (see screen shot below). With Google Reader you click on the"Add subscription" button (see screen shot below). Google Reader is nice because it can be integrated into your homepage at igoogle. If you sign up for a web based program/service be sure to bookmark the site so that you can easily find it as well as noting your account information in an appropriate location so that you will be able to remember it later. So now you're ready to start receiving "feeds" from your selected websites.

Bloglines screen shot

Google Reader screen shot

I hope that you find this helpful. If you have any comments, I’d love to see them.

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