18 October 2013
By Andrew Cuyler
ave you ever heard of RSS? Maybe you’ve seen the icon in your browser’s address bar. Originally, RSS stood for “RDFSite Summary,” but it’s now been shortened to “Really Simple Syndication”.
If you like blogs and news, RSS is what your life has been missing.
Blogs are great. There are blogs for every interest. For instance, if you love cooking and baking, like I do, you might enjoy ChocolateandZucchini, a famous food blog by Clotilde Dusoulier. Maybe your friends blog and you like keeping up with what they’ve written. Perhaps you’re into blogging, and enjoy being involved in the community.
Of course blogs aren’t the only things to read online. There are news sites such as News24 or BBCNews to consider, not to mention news aggregation sites like BoingBoing, and special interest magazine sites such as Lifehacker and Cracked.com which update frequently, with huge numbers of articles. There’s always more to read!
Sitting down in front of the screen when you’re bored or have free time can be like going to the shops when you’re hungry; you want EVERYTHING! But it’s too difficult to decide, and you end up just staring at assorted meat instead. Wouldn’t it be great if you could get something like People or YOU or Popular Mechanics, but without all the Steve Hoffmeyr and carburettors? But with all the cool stuff, like comics (XKCD, Garfield, and Wondermark!) and news and geekery and food! You could totally have that magazine.
RSS is the way. Websites that update frequently can publish their new articles to a “feed” of items. RSS allows sites to create such feeds in a standard way, including article text, images, videos, and publishing date and information.
If you use Gmail (or just about any mail client actually) you can use RSS. Google’s RSS service is called GoogleReader, and it’s just amazing. I’ve heard that Mail clients like Thunderbird and Outlook support RSS right off the bat, and I’ve seen the option when setting up email accounts, but I would never defile myself by using such a thing. Google Reader is the reason I’m passionately in love with the internet. It’s the reason I quote memes IRL, and the reason I say things like “IRL”. Google reader will allow you to keep up with the net, all in one place.
So you’ve found a site you like, and you think to yourself, “I should check this site out more often!” Maybe you even bookmark it. Face it though; when last did you check your bookmarks? Seriously? Most of that is rubbish anyway. You should probably sort your bookmarks out…
And you never read XKCD again. That’s no way to live. Click this link: GoogleReader. Even if you don’t have a Gmail account, make a Google account just for this. If you can relate thus far, you’ll thank me.
From now on, every time you find a site you like, add it to Google reader. It’s simple; just copy the address of the site, and in Google Reader, click “Add a subscription”. Paste in the address and click “Add”. Google Reader is magical because it will make a feed for you, even if the website doesn’t support RSS natively. At least, it will try to. Sometimes you have to trim the URL or paste in a specific RSS URL but Google will figure it out most of the time. You could just click the RSS or “Subscribe with Google” icon on the blog or site you want to follow, but I find that often leads to annoying pop-ups and log-in prompts.
Now that you’ve added a subscription, add a few more, and you’ll see why this is awesome. Suddenly you’ve compiled the perfect magazine, delivered to your desk every day. I currently have about 50 subscriptions, and with BoingBoing and Reddit on the list I receive hundreds of new items daily. Of course, some blogs and comics are slower to update, and you’ll only get one or two from them a week. But guess what; you don’t have to keep checking the sites for updates. As soon as a new DrCat comes out, Google Reader will have it there for you, waiting for your morning coffee break. And if I scared you earlier with talk of hundreds of new items a day, you can mark entire feeds as read so the big bold All Items (1000+) will go away. Once you reach a respectable number of subscriptions, you can group them into folders, such as News, Comics, lols or NSFW.
Finding new content is easy as well. If you have friends who constantly send you links, tell them to get onto Google Reader. You can follow each other, so that any items one person shares will show up in the other person’s feeds. Reader will even suggest other blogs and feeds based on what you like, and group them under “Recommended Items” and “Recommended sources”. You can also click “Add subscription” and enter search terms to find new feeds.
I bet you’re keen to start using RSS, right? Look up. You can add all of the sources I’ve recommended right now, and tomorrow morning will be the best one yet :)
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