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RSS Reading: A Primer

March 6th, 2005 Leave a comment Go to comments

I’ve posted a couple items on RSS readers before, but this article will give you a better idea of what RSS is, how to set it up, and the best ways (or way in my humble opinion) to use it.

IT probably isn’t the best word to use either; them would be better and I’ll explain why. RSS is a service used to deliver web site postings to you in a message-like format very similar to e-mail.

The great thing about RSS is it isn’t exactly a new technology, which is the hallmark of a successful Internet service in my opinion. It’s been around for several years and has had plenty of time to develop and improve. The last couple years have seen RSS really take off, with big names like Yahoo offering RSS service for it’s very popular Yahoo News site (scroll down and look at the lower left side, you’ll see a whole section devoted to it).

Anyway, moving on. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, meaning, in a very simple sense, that it delivers syndicated news. As with any rapidly growing Internet service developers are creating some really amazing new uses for RSS but the combination of RSS and blogs (like this one) have started to really change the way people get information online.

Part of my job is monitoring tech trends and news. If I’m in a meeting and anyone asks a question about what our competitors are doing they usually look at me first, and let me tell you not knowing a particular answer doesn’t make that a fun spot to be in. What this means is if there’s any way for me to collect this information any easier I jump on it.

My earlier post talked about Thunderbird, an excellent e-mail and RSS client developed by the Mozilla folks. One of the issues I discussed in that post was memory load (my laptop runs hot so the lower the load the better) so when I stumbled across Bloglines I signed up for an account on the spot.

Bloglines is an RSS reader that runs in a web interface, meaning no program, meaning no a lower memory load, meaning happier computer. You can also make your own page public so anyone can see it which is what I did with my account here. Devoted Bloglines users have created FireFox extensions and Windows applications to automatically check for new articles (installed on the first day, it rocks) making the process even easier.

Here’s the big plus (for me anyway) of the entire RSS process: Most web sites use a single column format for their main content, and if you don’t look at those pages for a few days you miss articles/news/postings that may have been pushed off the front page. Engadget, my favorite tech news/gadget site, is an excellent example. I can scroll through three or four pages of their postings to catch up and I might not remember the last article I read so I won’t know exactly how far back to go.

RSS simplifies all this by only retrieving new articles and remembering exactly what you’ve viewed. So if there are six new articles I missed bloglines will display only those six. I can always view the older postings through bloglines, but anything I find particularly interesting I can save as a “clipping” (basically what bloglines calls a favorite or bookmark).

My other big favorite to the whole system is I can read the content in a simpler format. A lot of web sites provide only the headline and the first sentence or two but many of them (including Engadget) include the full article and any images or links that go with it. So if you’re a webmaster you can drive additional traffic to your site via the headline route, or go more open source/creative commons and provide everything. Either way you can still count the traffic if you really want to.

Bloglines makes it very easy to add new feeds (feed meaning an RSS news feed from an individual web site), so go get yourself an account. The excellent blogger service (which you are viewing this on) provides RSS feeds as well, so you can subscribe to my page if you’d like. You may notice my bloglines page includes my own blog (that way I can check what I’m sending out and fix mistakes).

Happy RSS’ing 🙂

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  1. March 6th, 2005 at 12:27 | #1

    J-

    Liked the RSS post. Well written. I wanted to ask about your laptop heating up, what’s that about? And if you had to buy a new laptop today, I’m going to need one for grad school, what you look at?

    Thanks, Jack
    mr.jack@comcast.net
    http://www.libraryberry.blogspot.com

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