Thursday, April 22, 2010

RSS Feeds, blogs, and soy milk

There's a lot of info on the interwebs, but the junk-to-awesome ratio is huge and expanding. How is one to navigate?

RSS feeds are a great way to track changes to a website. They deliver nearly-instant updates to a single source for efficient consumption. It's like having a friend who constantly watches every website you tell him to, then emails you the minute anything is added or changed. Except this friend never sleeps, eats, or ask you for emotional support.

You consume RSS feeds in an RSS Reader, also called an aggregator. Examples can be found here. Some readers are installed on your computer, the way Outlook handles emails. Others are based online, similar to GMail, Hotmail, etc. I recommend Google's free web service, Google Reader.

Once you've chosen and set up your reader, you can subscribe to sites. Go to the website you want to follow, and look for something that says "RSS", or an icon like this:
They're usually found at the very bottom or top of a page. Click on the RSS link, and follow the instructions to add the feed's URL address to your reader list. (You may need to copy and paste the URL manually into your reader.) Now any changes to that page will show up in your reader automatically.

Here are three great uses for RSS.

Virtually every blog has an RSS Feed. I follow about fifteen blogs. It used to be an arduous process - remembering to visit a blog, check for new posts, reading them, and moving on to the next. I quickly forgot and/or lost interest. Now, using their RSS feeds through my reader, each new post waits patiently on my browser homepage* for me to read (or skip) it. (*See "A Final Hint," below.) And, if you want to post a comment or view older content, the actual page is just a click away.

If you find yourself drooling over new news out of Nonesuch Records, you can now save yourself the time and saliva by subscribing to their RSS Feed, found at the bottom of their homepage. Many websites publish a feed, but not all.

Let's say there's a somewhat rare item you want to find on Craigslist. Let's say that item is a soy milk maker. Let's say it needs to be near Takoma Park, MD, and under $50. Pre-RSS, you could either search Craigslist once in a while - probably making you 426th in line for the item - or search constantly for days on end, possibly with no results.

Using RSS, you can perform that same craigslist search, then click the RSS link on the bottom-right, and add that URL to your reader just like a blog. Now, every time a new post appears that meets your search criteria, it will appear in your reader. No more obsessive searching. No more discovering a post two days too late. This is especially helpful when browsing high-demand, fast-moving listings, like apartment rentals.

Note: Craigslist searches should be relatively specific, like "soy milk maker", "Takoma Park", [between $0 and $50], so your Reader isn't bombarded with too many useless results. I did this, and got a cheap soy milk maker in three days!

A Final Hint:
If you like Google Reader, you can go one step further by making iGoogle your browser homepage and adding the Google Reader gadget to your page. That way, every time you get online, you can see at a glance any unread RSS content you've subscribed to.


  1. Thank you so much for this info! (I know, I'm a bit late in reading it, since I don't have an RSS of course!) I always wondered what an RSS was all about, and now I can see how useful it is.

    Soy milk maker eh? Sounds pretty awesome :)


  2. Glad it helped! If you start using RSS, be sure to subscribe to my blog! :)

    (Is this a Sarah I know?) And yes, the soymilk maker is pretty awesome. :D Glad I could help.