Years back, the only way for someone to keep him/herself abreast with what’s happening in the world (socially, technologically, etc) is by either making periodic visits to news sites or subscribing to email-based alerts. With the first approach, that would simply be time-consuming. Exactly how many news sites are there anyway? The second approach is a sure way to fill up one’s inbox especially for those who are not online all the time. And when one finally does go online and see all that mail, chances are, s/he’ll lose interest and just move them over to the trash bin. Then we end up with nothing. All that for nothing.
There’s got to be a simpler way of doing this, right? Right. Here’s where syndication, more popularly in the form of RSS or Really Simple Syndication, come in. And the ability for a user to syndicate a section or sections of a news or blog site allows that user to read all the relevant content from a single point: the RSS feed aggregator or News Reader, which takes care of keeping track of news or blog items you have read or not read, leaving you with only the stuff that matters. This means you don’t have to visit Friends A, B, and C’s blogs all the time just to check whether they have posted new steamy articles about their prior nights, or their latest bouts with their bosses. Aggregators will do that work for you. In fact, I even use an aggregator to keep track of the new photos that are being uploaded by my friends in Flickr. If things can be listed and they have a corresponding RSS feed, all you have to do is subscribe to the feed and wait for the news/blog entries to pour in. All from the comfort of one software or browser.
Aggregators come in many forms. Some are desktop client software that you install on your computer, and some are online services. Since most feeds contain only the blurbs of the whole articles, one will most likely need to click on a feed link to see the rest of the story. This means one must be online while reading the feeds. And since I’m working on a premise that I’m indeed online, the obvious preference for me would be to use an online service like Google Reader, which for my taste is very easy to use. I like it simple and clean and Google Reader allows me to read news without any distraction. The less scrolls I do with my trackpad or mousewheel, the better. But preferences differ so you might wanna try both and some others as well until you find which you’re more comfortable settling with.
So how does one subscribe to a Feed? Well, a feed usually has a unique URL associated with it. Most sites indicate the feed URL by putting the RSS Icon right beside it. Copy that URL and tell your favorite aggregator that you want to subscribe to it. How one does that would depend on which aggregator is being used. In my case, Firefox (2.x) automatically detects Feed URLs in the websites that I visit and displays the RSS Icon in my browser’s Location bar (Figure 1). If I click on it, Firefox will give me a choice to select which feed to subscribe to and which aggregator to use, or one can select a default in the Feeds section of Firefox’s Preferences. Right out of install, BlogLines, Google Reader, and Yahoo come as standard choices. With Firefox having that option available sure does save a lot of time in subscribing. With or without it, however, one can still go to one’s online service and put in the desired URL in the subscription field without any problem.
Figure 1. the RSS Icon in the Location bar.
For simplicity’s sake, I didn’t mention other syndication standards (like ATOM) or the history behind all this. Chances are, it wouldn’t matter. Whether the feed is in RSS or ATOM format, your aggregator/news reader wouldn’t care less anyway. Just subscribe away! And some of the sites whose feeds I’m subscribed to are: Inquirer, The New York Times, BBC News, CNN, Forum Nokia, IBM DeveloperWorks, NetworkWorld, SlashDot, Friends’ del.icio.us bookmarks, Flickr, and blogs, of course.
Feed sets from one software or service can also be easily exported from or imported to different readers. This feature comes as a standard in most readers and usually yield an outline or OPML file which can be shared between friends with similar interests. It also helps if you want to migrate from one service or software to another, or if you want to simply back them up in a safer place. Some online aggregators, like BlogLines, even has a slimmer WAP version which you can access using your mobile phone/PDA. Pretty neat when whiling your boredom away.
Once you’ve setup your feed reader/aggregator, I hope you don’t forget to subscribe to the feeds for my Articles and Photographs. And if you want to be updated of the discussions here, there’s the Comments feed.