Friday, September 11, 2009

How to Keep Up with Everything: RSS

Problem: I want to keep up with what they are saying at a hundred different websites: New York Times, craigslist ads for Dogs for Sale, UM SSW blog, etc. But I can't keep checking all these sites every hour. What can I do? Solution: RSS. Many websites now let you "subscribe" to their RSS "feeds." (This is all free, by the way.) A feed keeps feeding the stuff to you, as soon as it is posted. So, for example, you can have a Facebook feed that lets you know when something has happened on Facebook, without actually having to go to the Facebook webpage. In other words, you can get up-to-the-minute articles from a hundred webpages, all delivered to one RSS feed webpage. You read your feeds in an RSS reader. I use Google Reader. So instead of having to keep all those websites open, I just keep that one Google Reader webpage open. It shows me what's happening in the feeds that I have subscribed to. If I want to see the details, with two clicks I can open the full webpage where the item was posted. But even if time is short, at least I can scan the headlines and, if I wish, the summaries. To add another subscription, just add another RSS feed. To find RSS feeds, search webpages or websites for "RSS" or for "feeds." Example: at the bottom center of the New York Times homepage, you'll see a little orange RSS button. Click on that, and you're taken to a page that lists dozens of distinct NY Times feeds. For instance, they have an Opinions feed (or, if you like, you can subscribe to individual columnists), as well as feeds for Health, International, etc. Examples of a few other feeds and feed webpages: Mental Health & Addiction Treatment BBC Ann Arbor News UM SSW Social Service Review You'll develop your own list, adding and dropping feeds, as you learn what's available and observe what you tend to find interesting. So what about that craigslist ad for a dog? Craigslist Ann Arbor does have a Pets community, and - like most craigslist pages - that one does have an RSS feed (in the upper right-hand corner). But maybe you don't want to see a thousand ads for the wrong kind of dog; you want to see only the ads for a five-year-old borzoi. Is that possible? Yes, with an RSS filter. But that's a story for another day.