Aaah. the reinsuring “clunk” of the morning Gazette, pounds of newsprint folded twice, lovingly wrapped in plastic and hurled at your front door with all the velocity a 12-year-old arm can muster. Part of the morning routine, right along with that big cup of Joe.
But the news doesn’t stop at 6 a.m. And what do you do if you want to get it fresh at 1:45 p.m.? Sure, you could wait for the evening edition, but that means you will have to get up out of your easy chair, leave your home and perambulate to the local newsstand. While the cardiovascular benefits are obvious, the time drain is unavoidable. And it’s still not fresh. Plus, you have to weed through all the print you have NO interest in and, ultimately, you have to recycle all that paper.
Enter RSS. “Really Simple Syndication.” “Ready For Some Stories” (which actually is RFSS, but who’s counting). Whatever you want to call it, RSS is a mechanism by which you can arrange to have the information you are interested in obtaining delivered fresh to your computer as it is generated 24 /7 without that clunk on your front porch.
Sure, you can get the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, BBC Front Page or whatever mainstream news source you are longing for. But for me, the real beauty of RSS is in the ability to search out sources with a more narrow focus but greater depth of information, such as blogs or industry-specific sites, and arrange for that information to come to you, rather than you go searching for it when your research need arises.
What exactly is RSS good for? Well, tons of things. Rather than list them all here, check out this list by Tim Yang which is quite exhaustive. My favorite is this one (although I would substitute something else for girlfriend):
Get your girlfriend to download an RSS reader, get her to subscribe to your very special feed only for her. Post some items you would normally write to her via email. Do this for a couple of weeks, then drop the bad news. Expect the subscription circluation to drop off at this point.
Which brings up another important point: you can create your own RSS feeds to distribute timely “news” to your own subscribers. This can include your colleagues, your co-workers, your peers, your CLIENTS. Yes, you can get with the tens and start delivering your own content by RSS rather than more traditional email newsletters.
What do I use them for? I primarily employ them passively, rather than actively a la the example quoted above. I use a free program called FeedDemon from Newsgator. It is a desktop RSS reader, as opposed to a web-based reader, such as Google Reader. I like my program, which is loaded on both of my two computers and which updates and synchronizes from either unit. I searched out my favorite news sources and subscribed to them through FeedDemon. When I open FeedDemon, the items are automatically updated. I have lots of options for customizing how the information is presented. If I leave the program running, new entries show up in a little box down in the corner of my screen, just like my new email. You also can download podcasts through this program into your iPod or Windows Media Player. You can skim the shorts and read only what you want. You can “clip” interesting entries and store them in a folder for later digestion. You can send entries to friends who might also be interested.
How do you find feeds? There are RSS search engines out there. Try NewsIsFree or RSSMad, a searchable RSS archive. FeedDemon comes with an RSS searching function, which I find to be easy to use but not the most comprehensive option available. If you are into finding your information with more pinpoint accuracy and filtering out the junk, try Kebberfegg, a keyword-based RSS feed generator. There also is FeedMySearch, which can turn your Google searches into tiny RSS feeds. You can also manipulate your RSS information with these more advanced tools, listed in an ABA Journal article by Tom Mighell and Dennis Kennedy here:
- Feedgit — this site allows you to create your own RSS feed from major news, blog, video, image, and other search tools. Simply enter your keywords, select the type of RSS reader you use, and Feedgit generates an RSS feed from those keywords. Just “subscribe” to that feed in your newsreader, and whenever your search terms appear on that particular site, you’ll be instantly notified.
- PonyFish — does your favorite site lack an RSS feed? With PonyFish it’s not a problem. Just plug in the URL of the site, click on the links you want to see when they are updated, and voila! You’re creating RSS feeds where none existed before!
- FeedBlendr — Tom has a number of feeds that search different sites for the same terms. Rather than have all of those feeds, Tom uses FeedBlendr to combine them into a single feed. Now, whenever his search terms are mentioned at any of these sites, he’s notified through one unified feed.
- FeedRinse — those of you who are already using RSS may find that you get a lot more information than you anticipated. FeedRinse can help with this, by applying a filter to your feeds.You can specify specific words or phrases (including profanity) that you don’t want to see, and FeedRinse sends you only the stories you’re interested in reading.
- ReminderFeed — you can also use RSS to remind you of important appointments, dates and deadlines. ReminderFeed does just that, notifying you by RSS at the time you specify.
- Rasasa — if you’re on the road and don’t have access to your feeds, Rasasa can help. It will forward your RSS headlines to your mobile phone if you’re offline, or to your IM or e-mail programs if you’re online.
Yes, it certainly does have the outward appearance of information overload. But in reality, RSS is targeted information transfer and manipulation so that you can access the information you really want, when you want it and before you even need it. ‘Praemonitus, praemunitus” or “forewarned is forearmed”, as Don Quixote might say. Try it out for yourself, you might get hooked.