Monday, July 6, 2009

5 reasons you should be using an RSS reader

RSS is the communications technology everybody seems to have overlooked.

It never fails to amaze me when I am speaking with a group and ask the audience to raise their hands if they have an RSS reader, and I get a sea of puzzled expressions.

If you are a believer in the saying that "Knowledge is Power" and you want to be as well informed as possible with the least amount of hassle, there's no excuse not to have an RSS reader.

First, an explanation of RSS (Real Simple Syndication): almost all web sites and blogs have feeds in which the content is sent almost like a pipeline to readers, which can be built into browsers (Firefox), web-based (Google Reader, Netvibes, My Yahoo) or a software program.

Think of all the web sites you read on a daily basis, and you'll see the orange RSS symbol somewhere (or if you can't find it, use your browser's "Find" function and type in "RSS"). Click on it and you'll get the special feed URL for that site, or a set of URL's for each stream of news. For example, if you want to follow PR Rock and Roll, the feed URL is http://feeds.feedburner.com/prrockandroll. A news site like the New York Times has multiple URL's, each one for a different sections of news, bloggers or columnists.

By cutting and pasting these URL's in the readers, you get a continuously updated pipeline from all your favorite sites straight to your desktop.

My favorite is Newsgator's FeedDemon (pictured above), which can be downloaded for free at the company's site. I keep the Windows software program open all the time, and it conveniently minimizes itself into the toolbar, running a visible alert when your feed are being updated. It's truly the Swiss Army knife of RSS readers, where you can save articles as clippings, create a "newspaper" viewing format, search for past articles, listen to streaming audio, watch video, and click onto any story to bring up the actual story posted in a mini-browser or your own default browser.

Why should all of you be using an RSS reader right now? Here are five great reasons, but once you are hooked onto RSS feeds, I guarantee you'll come up with more and wonder how you ever lived without them.

1) More information in less time: Instead of hopping from one site to the other, searching through different bookmark folders to click through on your most important sites, the information from all of them actively travels to you in one efficient package. You will be up to speed on all your favorite web sites and blogs in no time.

2) Clip posts and articles from the web: You want to save a valuable article you're reading, but you don't want to print it out (very un-green). RSS readers can "clip" those articles and put them in personalized folders you set up. Great for referencing information at future times.

3) Follow Twitter and LinkedIn updates: Nearly every Twitter feed has an RSS feed, so look for that magic orange symbol (usually below the Following... box) and cut and paste the code as a new subscription. Here's the RSS URL for my Twitter feed: http://twitter.com/statuses/friends_timeline/11213522.rss. You do not have to be a follower of anybody on Twitter to receive their RSS feed. On your LinkedIn home page, click on the orange symbol next to the Network Updates, and you'll be given the subscription URL to follow what all your connections are doing, including adding new people, joining groups, and posting queries. A great way to follow the burgeoning spider web of this highly useful professional service.

4) Find travel deals quickly: If you are searching for a flight or hotel bargain, why go researching on several sites when the bargain alerts can come right to your reader. My favorite is Airfarewatchdog's blog feed, which is on top of many sudden major deals, others feed devoted to fares to the Asia, Caribbean, domestic US flights and others.

5) Unclutter your e-mail in-box: Google Alerts are fantastic in tracking any kind of news, name, or topic, but your in-box can be hammered if you're tracking something popular. As an alternative, do a Google News search, and then click on the "RSS" with the orange symbol below the News Alerts link. Now, you'll be able to get your results in your RSS reader instead, and you can clip the stories you want to keep. Alternatively, FeedDemon has a "Watch" function that you can input like a Google search, and looks for instances of those words in every RSS feed you track.

1 comment:

Matthew Chamberlin said...

Hear, hear! I get the same blank stare when I ask people at a conference how many use RSS. The day I discovered GoogleReader was the day that positively altered my Internet experience forever.

There ought to be an RSS industry trade group dedicated to espousing its benefits.

I often wonder what could be done to hasten its uptake, but I think there is something about it that seems to "techy" and scares people off.

Good post.