Friday, January 2, 2009

RSS Feeds 101

I've noticed that there are a number of readers who stop by the site occasionally and catch up with my posts. How do I know this? It depends on when new comments are posted:
  • Comments on really old posts are likely from search engine hits.
  • Comments on posts 1 or 2 weeks old are probably from non-RSS readers.
  • Comments within a day have to be from RSS readers. (Good job!)
So, in my continued effort to point out the best tools for naturist use, I'm doing a quick post on RSS feeds for all those who don't use them. RSS feeds will allow you to keep up with all of your favorite blogs or sites without having to visit each of them separately.

What are RSS feeds? RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. If you read the news, online or in print, you may notice a lot of content from the Associated Press (AP). What happens is that one Associated Press reporter writes a story, then the story gets syndicated (sent) to every newspaper that subscribes to the AP. Then, the newspaper editors decide if they want to include the story that day or not. This process is way better than having every local newspaper send reporters all over the world just to write stories for them!

The same process exists online as well, and are called RSS feeds. When you visit a blog or news site, look for the little orange icon that says "RSS", "XML", or "ATOM" (all are the basically same thing). When you subscribe to a feed in your reader, you'll get all of the new content in your reader.

Different programs handle RSS in different ways. Internet Explorer will display the feed as a webpage, which I find a bit useless since you might as well go to the webpage itself: (Click the images for screenshots.)
Firefox is a bit better. It will add the RSS feed as a simulated folder. When you point to the folder, it'll show an auto-generated list of the newest posts as bookmarks:
Neither of these built-in options will filter out which posts are new and which you've seen before, and neither allows searching. If you end up being on vacation for a week, you might even miss some posts since they only update when you click on them. For more advanced (and useful) features, there are two main options -- stand-alone and web-based. There are a bunch of stand-alone RSS readers. One that I used to use is called FeedReader:
It has searching and will make unread stories bold. Although the stand-alone programs are good, they need to be installed and run all the time. The web-based one that I use, and have used since it was brand new, is Google Reader. It's free, online, efficient, and will grab the latest news even when your computer is off. I love it!
They also have an off-line mode that is good for dial-up users, and a mobile mode that is good for PDA's and cell phones. When I travel, I use the mobile mode with my PDA.

Currently, I use Google Reader with 105 RSS feeds. (The nudist-related blog folder is partly shown in the screenshot.) This is equivalent to me surfing a list of 105 websites just to see what's new -- a task which would take most people all day. If any of the sites have anything new, it's shown right in Google Reader, and I can be up-to-date with everything in minutes. Notice in the screenshot that the Hack-A-Day site just posted a new item 9 minutes ago, and I can read it already. Other features include:
  • Podcasts -- these are audio shows like the "Naturist Living" show. Google Reader has a built-in media player to let me listen to each show.
  • Picture Feeds -- Flickr has RSS feeds for tags, I use this to view all new "burningman" pictures.
  • Comments -- Blogs allow comments for each post. Comment feeds will show you every new comment on every post. There's no way you could keep track of these manually, since you'd need to visit the page for every post.
  • Wiki's -- Most wiki sites have a wide variety of RSS feeds. Wikipedia has a lot of options. Any page edit or new page is shown in the RSS feed.
  • Stuff -- Browsing Craigslist takes too long, but using their RSS feeds I can see new listings as they are posted. Acting fast can score you a cheap item that someone is selling.
  • Deleted Posts -- Sometimes bloggers like to post something, then take it away. It still exists in the RSS reader.
  • Searchability -- With Google Reader, I can quickly search through every blog post and news item that I have ever received over RSS. It's very handy!
  • Unclog your Inbox -- Yahoo groups and mailing lists fill your email inbox. I turn off the email, and subscribe to the RSS feed instead. It's just as fast, but keeps each group separate and makes each post easier to read.
There are plenty of tutorials on getting started, so why not give it a try? Stop browsing to every site and scrolling through old posts -- learn to use RSS and have every new item all in one place. It'll save you a lot of time, and will keep you up-to-date with everything your interested in.

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