Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Following Up

This post is a bit technical, but since you are reading a blog, and this post pertains to reading blogs, I think you might enjoy it even if you are not a technically-minded individual.  This post also has nothing to do with home repairs :)

I enjoy reading blogs, and many of my friends and coworkers keep online journals of some sort.  It's a nice way to stay up to date with people, but things can get a little tricky when you ("you," in this case, referring to anyone who enjoys reading blogs) find yourself with more than a couple blogs to follow.  It's a hassle to log on to various blogs and check up on things, and pretty soon you might find yourself with dozens of blogs to visit with no hope of staying current anymore.  Sure you could put all those blogs in a Bookmarks folder in your browser, but you still need to visit each one individually and hope they have new content. It's so much to keep track of!

Behold...the RSS Feed Icon!
What's a confused web surfer to do?

The answer is simple: use an RSS reader.  A family member recently asked me to help her set up an RSS reader, and in doing so I realized it might be worthwhile to explain things here on my blog too.  I would be lost without my RSS reader, and find it incredibly useful when managing all the blogs I follow, so I thought you might find this information to be helpful too.

The basic concept goes something like this: RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. (or, Rich Site Summary. But it really doesn't matter.)  Almost every blog has an RSS feed that anyone can subscribe to, and once you do, you can see each blog entry as a headline in a list.  And the entries you have not read will be marked, just like unread emails in your email program.  When you open your RSS reader you will instantly see all the blogs you follow as well as which entries you have not read.  It's kind of a way for you to consolidate your blogs in one central location, and read them in a more efficient manner.

Confused?  Oops.  Well then, let's try a visual example.

My RSS reader of choice is Google Reader, but it requires users to have a Google account.  Many email programs have RSS readers built in, and Windows users have a host of options from which to choose. Mac users need not fret though!  There is the excellent NetNewsWire as well as a bunch of other programs too.  Most of these programs are free, which is always nice.  I prefer Google Reader because I use Mac and Windows computers, and since Google Reader operates from any web browser I can access it anywhere.  But no matter which RSS reader you choose, they all perform the same basic functions.  The trick isn't to find the best one, but one that works for you.  And if you don't know where to start, just try one and see what you think.

Here's what my RSS reader home screen looks like:

(click for larger version)
Does that kind of screen look familiar? It ought to--it mimics the layout of most email programs. On the left is a list of all the blogs I follow, and on the right is all the entries for a particular blog.  When I logon to reader.google.com, any blogs that have been updated show up on the left-hand side in boldface along with the number of new entries.  Simple, eh?  Google Reader has a lot of other useful features too, like sorting blogs into folders, renaming blogs (I rename all the blogs I follow so they show up as the first name of the author, rather than the blog title. Helps things stay a little more personal.) marking items as unread, marking individual blog entries as favorites, and other tools that help you manage all the clutter.  And most RSS programs offer similar options, so if you don't want to use Google Reader chances are any of the RSS programs you will find are likely to have similar functionality.

So how do you get your RSS reader set up?  This too is pretty simple.  In Google Reader, you just click the Subscribe button and type the address of a blog you want to follow:

It will then be added to the left-hand side of your screen and you are then free to sort, rename, read, and organize to your heart's content.  Easy as pie!

RSS readers are handy for gathering news as well as reading blogs.  Most news organizations have RSS feeds for the stories they post, which can be read in an RSS reader just like blogs.  For instance, the Washington Post has RSS feeds brown down into dozens of categories.  So rather than logging on to their main web page, you can just subscribe to the RSS feeds that have news and information you care about.  Then when you open up your RSS reader you will see not only the blogs you follow, but the news stories you care about.  Nifty, eh?

Here's a short video that explains things further, and even though it's kind of old it's still worth checking out. I hope this post was useful, and if you have any questions just leave a comment and I'll be happy to help!

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