Like any card carrying uber geek check 30-40 news sites everyday to stay on the cutting edge of news. Sounds like a lot of time right? It’s not really. I go to one place and all the stories can be read (or headlines skimmed) in about 15 minutes a day. Sounds like I have some sort of card counting Vegas scheme right? Sadly I don’t. I just use one of the simple tools that never really caught on in the mainstream, its call Really Simple Syndication or RSS for short.
The history of RSS lies in the companies wanting to keep employees and consumers updated on their latest news. For the most part it hasn’t changed but it has become better.
Most if not all websites, news sites, and blogs have a RSS feed associated with them. The easiest thing to look for is this symbol. This link will allow you to subscribe to this page and every time it posts a new story you will be updated. Some RSS feeds can also contain attachments ranging from pictures, web pages, or even audio and video file. The latter is known as Podcasting (future post).
How will you be updated? Good line of thought. The answer is in a program or web application called a RSS aggregator. It’s a program that takes all the RSS reeds from all the sites you want follow and brings them all together into one single spot. You can skim headlines and read the stories you care about within the aggregator. It’s a one stop personalized newspaper for you.
There are several really awesome aggregators out there. They range from standalone aggregators, email programs, and online services. I go over a couple that I have used and focus on the one that I use the most.
Just like everything else there is a class of programs specifically designs to deal with your RSS feeds. There is a wide list of aggregators out there and Wikipedia has a great list and comparison here. Most feature a built in browser, tagging, import/export, and a large heap of other features. The down side of going with any stand alone program is that you have an extra program running on your computer and you have to go to your computer to check your feeds. It’s a very old school way of doing things. Needless to say it’s not my favorite way to go.
Most modern day email clients have an RSS reader built into them. Outlook, Thunderbird, and Mail on Mac all have RSS Aggregators built into them. With these programs whenever a site publishes an update you get an email for the post. The email contains the whole post with in the RSS feed so there is no need to open a link to read the article. It updates when your email updates so it will keep to on the bleeding edge as long as you have your email open. As with the standalone programs you need to be at your computer to check your feeds, but it adds functionally to a program that you are already using, which I smile upon.
My Favorite, hands down, no questions asked. It’s a nice stepping stone to cloud computing (More on this in a post to come). With this type of service you can check your feeds anywhere you have access to the internet. All the good online aggregators have mobile versions of their web pages or even mobile apps. Again there are many, many, MANY, options out there. Bloglines is popular choice, it’s easy to add feeds, they have a great mobile webpage for those on the go and it’s completely free. The MSN network, Yahoo, MobileMe, and also have aggregators.
As some may now I’m a Google whore and I will now gush for a while about their RSS aggregator. Google Reader is aggregator that I use. If you have a Gmail account(which you really should) you already are signed up and can use it with no further typing. Just go to the website and get started. It feature a wealth of features including keyboard shortcuts, sharing to google buzz, and the ability to email articles to anyone (This feature also uses your Google contacts so all you have to do is type your contacts name and Google does the rest).
Now you understand what feeds are and you have an aggregator to read them in. The last step is to add the feeds of the site you want to watch into your aggregator. Go to the site and look for can click this icon
or search (ctrl-F) for the term RSS. Once you have the address all you have to do is go to your aggregator and click add feed. Repeat for any other page you want. If you would like a page to start on you can use this link to subscribe to this blog. Thanks!
That’s it. You’re good to go. Next time you want to check the news go to your aggregator and everything posted since the last time you checked will be there.