If you haven’t run across this icon in the last few months you probably haven’t been online period (or on my site since it’s sitting right over there on the sidebar). What is this funny orange symbol you ask? and why does it matter?
That my friend, is an icon indicating an RSS “feed” which is basically a neatly packaged format for the content from a website, blog and much more. The best analogy I can think of is like a customizable newspaper on speed. Before newspapers if you wanted to know anything you had to go out and see it yourself. You might hear about news from thirty different people throughout the day, which was fine, but it would have been nicer if you knew they would all just come and tell you the details when you where ready for them to. Thus, the newspaper was born: News about a wide range of topics delivered right to your doorstep for you to read when it’s convienent for you. That was all fine and dandy till the Internet came along. And for that we meet our friend RSS.
With RSS you can compile your own newspaper, exactly the way you like it. Want sports news? Pick just the authors you like to read, or just the teams you want to follow. Want the weather? Pick just your home town, and maybe the forcast in the town your roadtriping to. But it get’s better. Want to know when your the package you shipped or ordered is arriving? track it with RSS.
And then it get’s really specific. I have RSS for any comments anyone leaves on any of my blogs, so I don’t have to click around checking them each individually. I have RSS from all my friends blogs, so I know when they’ve posted without having to check their individual site. I also RSS searches on ebay and craigslist for items I’m looking for. Pretty specific, if you catch my drift.
Now, I’ve done a bit of looking around at different RSS readers and each one has their own unique features, so today I’ll just introduce you to the one I use: Bloglines.
There are a few features I really like about bloglines. One, they make it quite user friendly to subscribe to different RSS feeds for blogs, weather, package tracking, etc. Also, since a number of people use it I’ve found some nice hacks and userscripts to make it even easier to use. Another really great feature is that you can setup email accounts so that any email subscriptions you have can show up in your RSS reader rather then your email inbox. That’s one of my favorite features. You can catagorize things into sections and read everything in that section, or click on just that individual feed. All very nice.
Ready to get started? Here’s a step by step guide:
1. Register at Bloglines.
2. Subscribe to Trying to Follow with one click:
3. Be Happy.
If I have time I’ll try and draw a diagram of this but for now just bear with me. Think of communication is being one of two things: either a flowing stream or fishing.
I think the reason people like TV is that it is more or less a stream. You turn it on and all the communication comes flowing right out at you, little to no effort on your part. Less people are interested in the Newspaper, it requires more work on your part. You might no you like the sports section, in the same way you know when your favorite show is on, but it still takes some effort.
For most of our use of the web we do quite a bit of fishing. If you want to catch up on the news you fish over at CNN or BBC and scan the stories and pluck out the ones that interest you. With all the blogs and websites out there these days we do a lot of fishing, I would guess most people go to about 5-10 websites a day to catch up on the latest, whatever that might be.
Email is more like a stream, but it’s become such a nasty one (who put that processed meat in there?), that we seem to be doing a lot of fishing in our OWN rainbows (just like in our physical mailboxes).
Welcome RSS. RSS stands for “Really Simple Syndication.” You’ll notice these letters stuck in some corner of most websites you browse, or sticking out in a bright orange box. It’s about time you learned what that is. Basically RSS allows you to take the flowing stream of a website you might frequent, and put it into your own pool (like an email subscription on speed). Basically what it allows you to do is take all the text, stories, pictures, etc. that you might be looking at from ten different websites each day and allows you to put them all into one. It’s like a customized newspaper just for you.
I myself currently use bloglines. In it I have a sidebar with a tech section, friends sections, feedback (people’s comments on my blogs), and more. The beauty is basically that on one page I can check 45 (and more as I add them) different webpages to see if there is any new information I might be interested in. It gets even cooler as you start looking into search RSS (I can see everytime a new result comes up under “ariah fine” on an msn.com search, and I will know whenever a blog has the word “ariah” in it). I can’t tell you how much time this ends up saving. I mean it really really does.
The other neat thing is that using a RSS reader like bloglines allows me to seperate my reading material from real communication. I’ve changed about 90% of the email subscriptions and things that I had over to my bloglines account. This way, when I hear the ding that I have new mail I’m fairly confident it’s a personal communication. And when I’m good and read I can look at bloglines and read all the things that might bore me, interest me, and cause me to waste hours of time.
So is anyone interested in some helping setting up a bloglines account?