RSS Feeds – What They Can Do For You

Summary: Lots of sites – blogs, news sites, anything where new items appear fairly regularly – now feature those little buttons. They’re often orange, and usually labelled something like ‘RSS’, ‘XML’, or ‘Site Feed’. It’s all the same thing, and it’s really very useful. It can also be very easy to take advantage of, and can save you a lot of time.

Introduction

Do you find yourself often visiting the same sites, to check if there’s anything new there? If not, you may not have any need for RSS – if you do, read on.

I found I was spending a lot of time visiting just a few sites, to keep up with the latest stories on them. The main ones for me where The Register and Slashdot. There were other sites that I really wanted to know about new stories on, but I really didn’t have the time to keep checking them several times a day just in case. Some sites updated less frequently, and I just forgot to ever go back to see anything new. By using RSS feeds, though, I now keep up to date with 126 sites, several times a day, and know about every new story they carry. I can do all this, without actually visiting any of the sites. Sound good?

So What Is It?

OK, so if you’re still reading this, you’re probably interested enough to find out what RSS is. If you stopped reading before this point, well, enjoy whatever you’re doing instead. Although it goes by a few names at the moment – RSS, Syndication, Atom, XML, Feeds, etc., it all boils down to a fairly simple idea. There’s a little text file. On the site’s own server. With a list of articles. So, you get a program on your computer, which goes off and gets all those little text files from all of the sites you’re interested in. It compares them with the ones it got last time, and suddenly it knows exactly what’s new on all those sites you like to visit. So it can give you a nice simple list. It will also know which ones it’s already shown you, so it knows what you’ve already read.

The end result is that instead of opening your browser, and visiting 126 web sites, one after another, and trying to remember if you’ve already seen all the stories or articles listed on them, you open up your RSS reader, and it does all the running around for you, and returns a list of what’s new. Believe me, it can save a lot of time, or alternatively, it can let you keep up with a whole lot more sites in the time you have.

If You Use More Than One PC

I still had one big problem with all of this. I was nicely up to date with everything when I left work. When I arrived home, and ran my RSS reader at home, it thought that I hadn’t seen everything that had been updated since last night, not since I left work. It had no way of knowing what I had read at work. The way around this was switching to Bloglines. It’s an online reader – you just go to the web site, sign up for a free account, and you’re done. It doesn’t matter which PC you access it from, or where you are. It knows who you are because you sign in to your account, and it keeps track of what you’ve read wherever you read it.

Adding Feeds

How you add feeds will depend on your choice of software for reading them. I’d suggest using Bloglines, at least to start with – it’s as powerful as most desktop readers, can be accessed from anywhere, and it’ll keep track of everything even if you read at different machines. Because there’s nothing to download and install, it’s also quicker and easier to get started. With Bloglines, there’s a box in which to enter a URL, select ‘subscribe to URL’, and it will add the feed to your list. To get the feeds in the first place, look for those little orange buttons. Right click on one, and choose ‘Copy link location’ or similar (depends on your browser). Paste that into the box on Bloglines, and it will subscribe you to the feed. With Bloglines, you can also search for feeds, so you can find out quickly if your favorite comic strips, newspapers, or other sites are available. Once you’ve subscribed to a few things you like, Bloglines can also recommend others – it looks for what feeds other people have subscribed to who have also subscribed to the feeds you already use – a bit like Amazon’s recommendations.

Desktop readers often respond to clicking on those links, or you might find a new option when you right click on a link – something like ‘Subscribe with YourReader’.

PigPog Feeds

So the most important thing you’re probably wondering now is whether PigPog has any feeds you can subscribe to. Well, at least in my strange fantasy world, that’s exactly what you’re wondering. Since you’ve wandered into my little world here, you’d best start wondering that, and I’ll get on with answering it as if you were wondering it all along.

Why, yes, we do. So sweet of you to ask.

There’s feeds with little orange buttons on my blog (you’re probably here already – http://pigpog.com/michael/blog/), and on Sam’s blog. If you want to keep up to date with the latest photos we add, there’s another little button on the Photography page, and if you want us to keep pointing you towards the best web sites and blogs we find out there, you can use the little orange button next to the PigPog Filter. In Bloglines, you could find them all by searching for ‘PigPog’.

Update: There’s now a single RSS Feed that brings all the other PigPog feeds together, and a page listing all of our feeds.