Maximize Your RSS Reading

In this third article on RSS, I explore how best to read your RSS subscriptions using Bloglines as an example.

In Part 1 of this four-part series on RSS, I introduced the basics of RSS. In the second article I discussed the various RSS readers [aggregators!] and how they differ from each other.

Now it’s time to maximize your RSS reading! By understanding how to find and save your RSS feeds you will get the most out of this exciting technology.

Where do I find new feeds?
Surf the web! Go to your favorite sites. Chances are they have an RSS feed available. Check RSS search directories such as Yahoo for content you are interested in.

How do I add a new feed?
When you find a site you want to subscribe to, simply look for a bright orange button labeled “XML”. Other times you will simply see a link that says: “Subscribe via RSS”. Modern web browsers like Firefox, Safari, and Opera offer automatic discovery and bookmarking of feeds. In the worst case you will just have to click on a feed link, copy and the feed address from your browser, and paste it into your RSS reading software. Most feed reading software has easier methods; usually a click or two and you have subscribed to the new feed.

I’ve got a bunch of feeds, now what?
Just like reading email, RSS reading should be fun and easy. It can also be time-consuming, so if you plan a time to read your feeds you can make sure you don’t get so hooked that you don’t get any work done!

My personal favorite feed reader is Bloglines. It is fast, web-based, and easy to learn and use. Since it is web-based it allows you to access the feeds from any computer or web-enabled device at any time. And you account is always up to date with what you have and haven’t read.

Organize your feeds
After compiling a good amount of new feeds, organize them into folders according to their content. For example, have folders called “Podcasts”, “News”, “Weather”, and “For Fun”. Bloglines, like many other feed readers allows you to organize your feeds however you like. If your feeds get too out of hand (like you go on a week-long vacation and don’t read anything), simply mark them all read with a click of a button.

On probation
One tip I learned from the popular “getting things done” web site 43 Folders involves always putting new feeds into a folder called “Probation” (link to the article). Then, if you like the feed after a few weeks you can easily move it to another area. If you decide not to continue the subscription, it is simple to remove since all your trial feeds are in one place.

Power RSS usage
If you’ve been at the RSS reading thing for a while, and you have a Bloglines account, I recommend trying a service called Chameleon offered by Joshua DavisTyler (sorry Josh!). The concept is very interesting: Chameleon filters your feeds according to how soon and how often you read them. As a result, when you login to read your feeds, the ones you tend to click on and read first are on top. Very cool!

Whatever your reading habits are, make sure to take advantage of RSS to stay on top of blogs, news, and podcasts.

In my next RSS article, I will break down some of the popular uses for RSS (and maybe some more uncoventional uses!)

You've Always Got Time For Your Aggregator

Part 2 of the discussion on RSS technology.

In my first post about RSS I discussed the basics of RSS and the idea of feeds and subcribing to an RSS feed. That’s all good and well, but how do you organize and read all those feeds once you have subscribed to them?

The answer is, of course, a feed reader. In the industry jargon they are called “aggregators”. This just means a program that gathers your RSS feeds and displays them nicely for you.

There are two basic types of feed readers. One is web-based and you need to be online and browsing the web to access your feeds. The other type remains on your desktop and runs along side of your other applications (even when you are off-line).

What you choose is up to you. In general the desktop RSS readers are faster and have more powerful functions. The online aggregators are usually less expensive (free!) and you can access your feeds from anywhere — even if you don’t have your computer with you.

Good RSS reading software is essential to get the most out of RSS and blog reading. Follow the links to test-drive some of the more popular RSS readers.

Popular online RSS readers:

Popular desktop RSS readers:

Google also has a new RSS reader. I have tested it, but it seemed to be in pretty early stages of development. There are plenty more, too, but these are the ones that are known as being top-notch in terms of ease of use and reliability.

If you don’t want to use a traditional RSS aggregator like these, you can subscribe to RSS feeds right in Yahoo Mail, Gmail, and other online email programs. There are also plugins for all the major desktop email programs like Outlook, Thunderbird, Eudora, etc. that allow you to read RSS feeds in your inbox just like regular mail.

So, make time for your aggregator if you haven’t already. If you don’t have one, sign up for an online account, or else download a trial of a desktop aggregator. You can also check with your email provider to see if they offer RSS reading as a part of your email service. For you first feed, you can subscribe to simpledream blog!

Next time I will take a look at how aggregators work and what some different ways are to read your news and blogs. Stay tuned….

RSS, It's What's for Breakfast!

RSS(Really Simple Syndication) basics and what it can do for you – OR – why a bowl of cereal and RSS is what I start out the day with!

Recently I have had lots of questions about RSS from my parents, clients, and friends. This prompted me to put together several entries here about RSS and news reading on the web. Since most major sites like CNN, NPR, New York Times, and even this site (simpledream web studio’s blog) publish new content through RSS, it is an important technology to know about.

Today, in the first article, I am going to cover the basics for those of you that have heard about RSS, or seen it mentioned online, but do not have a clue what it is.

In brief, these are some benefits of using RSS as an end-user:

  • Allows you to keep track of updates on your favorite web sites without having to constantly visit each site to see if it has changed
  • Good way to gather lots of desirable content in one place
  • No need to go looking for news, blogs, and other content on the web yourself
  • No more long lists of bookmarks in your browser to keep up with your favorite sites

Along with RSS, you will hear the word Subscription (or subscribe) used a lot. This is because in order to take advantage of RSS technology, you have to first subscribe to a news feed from a particular source – usually a web site. That site produces a feed, which is just a fancy name for the files the site publishes to show updated content or changes to a page.

RSS, which stands for “Really Simple Syndication”, is easy to understand and use. Here is how it works:

  1. A web site produces some content, be it an audio program (podcast), newsletter, blog entry, or online article
  2. The web site’s programming scheme turns the content into a nicely formatted outline showing the content and some data to describe the content (date, author’s name, and title of the article, for example)
  3. This outline format is written in a language called XML
  4. RSS is designed to read XML files and therefore enables you, as the recipient, to receive the XML files to your computer or web browser by subscribing to the RSS feed of a web site
  5. While you are sleeping, working, or playing, the feeds of web sites around the world are getting searched, grabbed, and indexed by your RSS reader software
  6. You wake up, turn on your computer, and fire up your desktop or web-based RSS reader
  7. Your news reader shows you the latest RSS feeds that it has gathered from your subscriptions and you can read, delete, and manage them as you wish

Bottom line: you will get notified by RSS when your favorites sites are updated!

Next time I will discuss the differences between online and desktop RSS readers and how to choose the best RSS program for your needs. I will also suggest some popular and easy-to-use RSS readers for you to choose from.

For now, here is more reading on the basics of RSS:
Feedburner, About RSS
Wikipedia Article

New site: REA Software

simpledream web studio announces a recent project that has gone live.

It is my pleasure to announce a recent project that has gone live!

Together with Western Sky Communications, I worked on a redesign for
REA, a commercial Real Estate contact management software developer. Martha Retallick of Western Sky Communications designed the site, and simpledream took care of XHTML, CSS, and getting the code up to speed with current web standards.

Was: gorea.com (site is not available as of April 1, 2014)

Meaningful Updates for Blog Posts

Lance discusses how to update your blog post in a meaningful way based on suggestions by Tantek Çelik at WE05.

Have you ever posted a blog entry, read it back to yourself, and found that you made some errors? Happens every day to most people!

I was listening to Tantek Çelik’s talk at WE05 entitled Meaningful XHTML and he talked about a meaningful way to update your blog posts.

The basic ideas is this: instead of updating a post by going in, editing, and then saving, Tantek recommends using semantic markup to show what has been updated.

The roots of this idea are in the trust and accountability of blogs and bloggers: once it’s posted, it stays. It goes along with the idea of permalinks, which are truly intended to be “permanent links”. If you use them what you are really saying is: this is up here and I am going to take responsibility for it.

Mistakes and errors occur often, of course. How to show that you aren’t changing the original post except to update it’s content? When you update the blog post, simply wrap the old content in <del></del> and wrap the new content in <ins></ins>.

Then apply some CSS (for example):


p ins,p del { display:inline }
ins {
  background-color: #ffc;
  font-weight: bold;
  text-decoration: none;
}
del {
  text-decoration:line-through;
  color: #999;
}

If you did this on my site, this is what an updated post would look like:

AJ took a great picture of a Monarch Queen butterfly in Arizona this week.

The blog post doesn’t change, it just gets updated with new information. I love that Tantek brought this up in his podcast because I haven’t been good myself at putting this into practice.

It’s a great idea because it not only reinforces using semantic markup but also helps promote honest and responsible blogging practices.

If you are interested in hearing his whole talk, go to the WE05 podcast page and download the audio file there. Then link to the slides (see above), listen, learn, and enjoy!

TopStyle, the Ultimate CSS and HTML Editor

Lance extolls the virtues of his favorite CSS and HTML editor: TopStyle.

Do you work with CSS and (X)HTML all day long? If you do, then you need to use TopStyle for your coding. Written and maintained by Nick Bradbury of HomeSite and FeedDemon fame, TopStyle is the best CSS editor out there. It isn’t bad for HTML, PHP, JavaScript, and other languages, too.

Even if you don’t code CSS and (X)HTML all day, it’s worth having TopStyle around for the occasional blog post or web site update. It integrates nicely with HTML Tidy for clean code, and has lots of the built in features that users of HomeSite and later versions of Dreamweaver are already used to. In fact, Dreamweaver ships with a lightweight copy of TopStyle for CSS coding.

For those of you that already use Dreamweaver for your web coding needs, check out this great article: Working with TopStyle – Part 1 (on CommunityMX). It explains how Dreamweaver and TopStyle can be used together for top-notch web design and development. A lot of features that people ask for in TopStyle exist already in Dreamweaver; it’s a great combination in my opinion.

If you already have a copy of TopStyle, improve your skills by following Nick and company’s TopStyle Tips from Pro Users blog. I just learned recently about extending TopStyle to validate PHP with a TopStyle extension called “Lint“.

I have used TopStyle for over 2 years and can’t be happier with it’s ease of use and efficient features, especially for CSS. Check it out if you haven’t already!

WE05 PodCasts

If you can’t be there, make sure to download the full list of podcasts from Web Essentials 2005 in Sydney. I just downloaded 12 podcasts, and am looking forward to listening and learning. One in particular: Molly’s first keynote!

Link to WE05 podcast page: WE05 PodCasts ».

Via: Veerle.