Thursday, October 12, 2006

Seriously, the web is much better with RSS.

I took a long time to start using an RSS reader. I'd see bloggers making reference to RSS, figure it was some technical thing that was beyond me, and ignore it. When I eventually realized how simple and convenient Bloglines is, it became my principal way of exploring the web.

It's terrific, of course, for being alerted to new stuf from sites that update frequently. But such alerts are at least as valuable if the site doesn't update regularly and you wouldn't know to expect new content. My friend Joel has a blog that he until recently updated as infrequently as I do this one. I'm not in the habit of reading his stuff, because his not in the habit of posting it, but I have had a subscription to his site's feed, which is generated automatically by Blogger. Consequently, when he posted something this week for the first time in months, I knew right away, even though I'd have never had motive to go looking there each day or even each week. I made this point in a comment there, and he sought clarification.

I'm ashamed that it's taken a couple of days to provide that clarification when I actually had an old e-mail lying around I could have tweaked and forwarded, but I wanted to dress it up a little to put it here in the hopes of edifying at least a couple more people besides Joel. I'd almost be ashamed that it's been almost two months since I last posted here, but, unlike the first year or so of this site's life, I'm actually really busy these days.

Anyway, here's a brief explanation of RSS for those unfamiliar with it. It's a slightly edited excerpt of an earlier e-mail on the topic I've sent to a couple other people.

RSS is wonderful stuff. Using an aggregator to subscribe to syndicated feeds from the blogs and other web sites I follow regularly, I can see all their new posts and articles from one central program (in the case of a web-based aggregator such as Bloglines, it's one central web site) without having to check back to see if they've updated.

For instance, I want to read every new thing Radley Balko posts at The Agitator, but I don't want to keep going back there all the time if there's nothing new. Because I subscribe to his site's feed, Bloglines puts his site's name (and those of other updated sites) in bold with a number in parentheses after it of how many new posts there have been since I last clicked on the listing for it under "My Feeds." When I click on it, it shows me just the new items. I can read the whole entry there (for most sites, though not all) and/or choose to click through to the actual web page for that item.

This Slate article explains it better than I can. This is also a helpful article. There are a lot of different RSS-reader programs, but I find two advantages with Bloglines. First, it's free, unlike several others. Second, it's just really convenient to use. With a "Subscribe with Bloglines" toolbar button, you can very quickly and conveniently add subscriptions from any site you're viewing that has a feed. You can see my subscriptions here for an example. There are no parenthetical numbers reflecting updates that way because it only tracks what's been viewed already if you're logged in to your account, but you can, by clicking on a blog title there, see how the content appears from the feed.

It all works a whole lot better if you use Firefox and its tabbed browing, I can tell you that. If you're still using Internet Explorer, you really should get Firefox. Joel's seen me wearing the T-shirt enough times, I think, that he ought to know by now. But let me just try to make this clear for everyone. There are a lot of reasons listed on the Firefox site to start using it, but the tabbed browsing alone makes it worth it. I rarely simply left-click on links anymore, right-clicking instead and choosing "Open Link in New Tab." I can toggle back and forth then between large numbers of different web sites much more conveniently than if I had multiple browser windows open. It's easy to download and easy to install.

Afterward, it's easy to start up a Bloglines account and start subscribing to feeds from your favorite web sites. For instance, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, or this.

Oh, and anyone who's clicked onto Joel's site and is wondering why he's invented this word, "Rhetorantical," I have a couple of theories, but my favorite is that just as I learned the hard way not to blog drunk, he's learned the same about blog creation.

Quick update: In case anyone might be confused, you don't need to have your own blog to have a Bloglines account. Just so we're clear on that.


Blogger Steve Ely said...

Actually, if I had to bet, I'd put my money on it being "Rhetorantical" because it's rhetoric with a rant in it. But the other theory's more fun.

2:18 AM  
Blogger Dylan said...

and...since I couldn't find it on here, I viewed your source, and found the rss feed for your blog:

(I didn't like bloglines - I use my myspace blog which doesn't allow javascript, so I can't use bloglines - at least I couldn't last I looked. I've found I like my Google Reader)

9:26 PM  
Blogger Steve Ely said...

That's a good point about the actual text of the feed itself. I don't understand exactly about the precise role of your MySpace use interfering with Bloglines use, but if Google Reader's working out well for you, then that's cool.

11:00 PM  

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