Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Tegan's Tech Talk

I should've seen this one coming. Time for RSS 101, Tegan-style.

Ok, an RSS Feed is simply a file that takes all the entries in a blog and puts them into a standard format. When you publish your blog, an RSS feed is published. A group of programs called "readers" note the change in your RSS feed, and update with your new entry. Anyone using a reader to read your blog then sees your new entry. Nifty!

Aside: RSS stands for "Really Simple Syndication"... when you publish a feed, you are syndicating your blog entries: sharing them with other sites in a standard format.
There are a lot of advantages to using a reader to read blogs. For one thing, I have 300 or so blogs I want to read. Going to each and every blog to see if they've updated every single day would be a pain. With a reader, I see only new entries since the last time I checked the reader. That makes it really easy to read 300 plus blogs in a fairly short amount of time as I can quickly see which have been updated. In addition, most RSS Feeds show full entries, so I can usually read the whole entry in the reader instead of needing to visit the blog itself.

Yes, I still visit blog pages themselves. Usually to comment, or to view images that don't show up in the reader (some methods of preventing hot-linking prevent feeds from showing images). But most of the time, when I read blogs, I use my reader and get through them quickly.
Aside: Using a shared service (like Bloglines or Google Reader) to read feeds is good netiquette, because the service only has to visit each feed once to retrieve the feed for thousands of users, thus saving bandwidth for the publisher of the feed.
I prefer reading blogs this way. It's faster. I don't mind people reading my blogs through RSS feeds. Some people do mind. They want people to visit their site, so they get the hit on their site or so you'll see the advertising they put on their page. But it's rapidly getting to the point that I won't read a blog if there is no feed for it, because I read so many blogs I wouldn't be able to keep up without feeds.

So, suppose I've convinced you to give a reader a try. From my e-mail, I'd say I got at least one person interested. Here's what you need to do. Go to one of the readers I've mentioned, Bloglines or Google Reader, and look for a bit that says "Add" or "Add subscription". Click on that. It'll ask for a URL. Put in this: That's the feed address for this blog. It will give you something to start with.
On Google Reader you could also start with a pre-defined "Bundle" that they've set up (next to "Add subscription", click on "Browse" and then pick a bundle).
Almost every website that updates an a regular basis now has a feed. You can often spot them by looking for "RSS", "Atom", "XML", or an orange graphic. Even better, some sites have feed for particular subjects on their sites. For instance, if you only wanted to read my Ripples Through Time posts on a feed, you could use this link. Many browsers have the ability to search for feeds on a site, and will allow you to subscribe in the reader of your choice with a click. In short, you should not have difficulty finding feeds you would be interested in.

Once you have a feed or two, play with the program. Check the entries, see how they are displayed. Decide if you want to read blogs that way. Every entry should have a link back to the blog site itself, so try using the links to visit the original blog. Explore. I don't really know what else to tell you at this point, because at this point I've usually gotten so interested in the new program that you'd need a crowbar to remove me from my computer. I know most people aren't like me, but if you haven't got the hang of it yet, I'm unlikely to be able to give you useful tips.

I will mention that when I started using Bloglines, I only had a handful of blogs in there, all the others I still checked by hand. Eventually most of my blog reading migrated over to Bloglines because it was just so much easier to keep up.
And that's it for this boring edition of Tegan's Tech Talk. Regarding yesterday's entry that spawned this followup, Google Reader is DEFINITELY winning. Except for blogrolls, it has everything I need, and except for subscriber counts, it has everything I want.
To finish off the post, how about some of my favorite feeds? In no particular order, and leaving tons of great feeds out: The Aquaman Website, The Aquaman Shrine, AiT/Planet Lar, Brian Wood's Livejournal, Bully, Mike Sterling's Progressive Ruin, Girl Genius (main storyline), The Modulator, Paul Cornell, Rashy's Livejournal, Journalista, Bad Astronomy, Snopes New Urban Legends, CNN Top Stories, Pen-Elayne, The Johnny Barcardi Show, Jeff Parker, Boing Boing, MetaFilter, and Slashdot. These are just a handful of the sites I check every day thanks to my RSS Readers.