Are you NOT using RSS yet?
"Let the information come to you instead of [you] actively searching for it." — From the introduction to RSS by LoadAverageZero.
I have been thinking of posting about the greatness of RSS [acronym for Really Simple Syndication] and how it has completely changed the way I browse for about 4 months now (believe me!). I just couldn't motivate myself to write about this thing which might or might not be useful to everyone.
But today I got the bit of inspiration I was looking for. One of my friends who is extremely busy these days, send in this by mail today:
"…are u updating the blog? Tell me if i would get a mail after u update…"
This triggered off a train of actions that ultimately resulted in this post.
OK, having got the why this post part out of the way, let me get down to explaining what this fuss is all about. RSS is a three letter acronym that stands for Really Simple Syndication, Rich Site Summary or RDF Site Summary. Whatever, it is, all we should be worrying about is how to harness the power of RSS.
But, at least some of you might be interested in knowing a bit more about RSS. So please this post by Dan Read of DeveloperDotStar first, where he touches upon the beauty of RSS and how useful it is, and after that links you to this simple intro to RSS posted at LoadAverageZero. However, there is a much simpler and more layman-ish intro available at the BBC Feedfactory site.
So go, first read Dan's post followed by either of those two intros. Till then I will wait, I promise.
Ok, now that you know how simple RSS is — it is just an XML file — you need to know how to harness its power.
There are special (and simple) software available that can make sense of all this XML stuff being spewed out by the various sources, including BBC and DeveloperDotStar. For this, we use something called as a News-Aggregator or a News-Reader, of which there are two kinds — desktop and web-based.
The basic tasks of a feed reader will be to:
- Keep track of the news and blogs you are interested in
- Highlight the entries you are yet to read
- Have a way to link to the original post for each entry
The desktop reader is a simple application that you can download and install in your PC, that will keep track of all the emerging news and blog posts. There are also special plug-ins available that can be added onto either Outlook or Firefox (Sage) to do the same thing. This avoids the use of an external application (other than your browser and/or mail client). Another cute way of achieving the same is to use the mail client Mozilla Thunderbird that has a built-in news aggregator.
The disadvantage of this approach would be that if you are using more than one PC to browse the web (say one at work and one back home as I am doing), then these two versions will not be in sync. So you won't be able to easily find out what all feeds you have already read.
This is where the web-based version comes to our rescue. Here you login to a site — just like logging into your mail account — that keeps track of your feeds for you. The best among the desktop version would be Bloglines, Rojo and Google Reader. I am using Google Reader for about 5 months now though it is still in Beta.
There is a another class of web based aggregators emerging now, that offers much more than just aggregating your feeds. These are popularly known as a web-desktop. The best among the lot would be Netvibes, closely followed by Google Personalised Home, PageFlakes, My Yahoo, MSN Live and countless others.
But of this lot, I prefer Netvibes, which I am using for about 4 months now. I use it to track the feeds, but prefer doing the actual reading in Google Reader.
Now, here comes the best part. To help you experience what I am talking about I have created one account each in Bloglines, Google Reader and Netvibes.
You can access all the three using the same eyedee, pasvord combination of "protos?_DOT_?buddy?_AT_?GeeMail?_DOT_?Com" and "welcomebuddy" respectively. Hope you got the eyedee thing right. Just ignore the question marks and underscores. Replace DOT and AT with the real thing. OK? Please do visit each of the three and see for yourself the power of RSS and web based aggregators, not to mention the extreme usability of a complete web desktop solution like NetVibes.
A few tips: When you visit Bloglines do click on the "My Feeds" link at the top left section. In Netvibes, admire the fact that you can track anything from weather to your mail to news to stock prices just by staring at that page.
So, in a nutshell, RSS is all about letting the info come to you rather than actively searching for it, as mentioned in that LoadAverageZero intro.
I really would appreciate if you can comment about the usability of this article. That will help me in improving my posts in future. Thanks for reading thus far.
Postscript: Yes, I am going to mail my friend that I have posted an entry. But I just hope this will be the last time I will be doing so :).