“Check back frequently for updates,” the web site implores. “I don’t have anything important to say right at the moment. But I’m glad you stopped by, and I expect you to come back again tomorrow just in case I want to tell you something then.”
I never check back for updates.
If a web site isn’t changing, there’s no reason to keep going back to it. But I don’t know if it’s not changing unless I go check. Fortunately, RSS does this for me. I use RSS to go out and check web sites for updates, and let me know what’s new on them. It keeps me from having to constantly go back to those sites when there may or may not be something new.
I’ve discussed RSS before, and the people at Common Craft do a reasonably good job of explaining it. Basically, you subscribe to an RSS feed for a site. When that site is updated, the updates show up in the feed. So you can quickly see when new content is posted.
To use RSS, you need a feed reader. Protopage can be used as one. It’s a great choice because you can set up a portal with links to frequently used sites, to-do lists, calendars and other widgets, and sticky notes. The RSS feeds become one component of your own personalized portal.
Personally, I’ve been using Thunderbird for my RSS feeds. I use Thunderbird for email, and have it configured for multiple email accounts. My RSS feeds just show up like one of these accounts. Each site to which I subscribe looks like an email folder, and each newly posted item looks like an email message. It’s really not email, but it looks like it, and this solution works well for me.
Some people also use the free Bloglines or Google Reader services. These work well, but they’re not really my thing. You can do neat stuff like share the things you like with others, and manage your feeds through a cool web interface. A lot of people really like these tools. They’re just not for me.
To subscribe to a feed, you must first find one. Most of the time, RSS feeds use the little “RSS” or “XML” icons. The web is slowly standardizing on this one. It was created by Mozilla for Firefox, bust Microsoft adopted it and it is becoming more popular. To use the feed, right-click on the feed icon and select “Copy Shortcut” or “Copy Link Location”. Then, paste the feed into your feed reader. When new content is added to the site, it’ll show up in your feed reader.
Note that there aren’t RSS feeds for all web sites. The software running the site has to support it, and it has to be configured at the server to work properly. For web sites that do use it, though, it can be a real time-saver.
Assignment: Find a feed reader that works for you. If you use Thunderbird. try adding news feeds to it. If you don’t, check out Bloglines, Google Reader, or Protopage to manage your feeds. Find and subscribe to at least two feeds, and wait for the content to come to you.