The problem is the Internet is big. Really, really big.
It is so big, it is hard to keep track off just the small bits of it you are interested in (those small bits always seem to get bigger as the Internet itself gets bigger). You surf around a bit, find a site that is interesting, add it to your bookmarks so you can come back when it is updated again, and the next thing you know, you have 1000 bookmarks.
Worse yet, you have no idea which websites have been updated. You find yourself spending a lot of time visiting sites and finding that nothing new has been posted or that the latest post is not what your interested in anyways. So, you go the the next site where you find the same thing. Finally, you find one of your favorite sites has something new and exciting. Now you only have 997 more sites to check.
“Space,” it says, “is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space, listen…”
-Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy
There are those that predict the Internet will eventually contain the sum total of mankind’s knowledge.
With all the stuff on the Internet that is wildly made up, inaccurate, or just a plain old lie, I’d say there is already many times the sum knowledge of man here already. Even if we haven’t actually gotten all the real knowledge converted to the bits and bytes of digital storage. There is a lot of cool stuff you may want to keep track of and it can quickly become a lot of work and cause all that information overload thing people like to talk about.
So how can you keep track of all the things that interest you on the Internet?
Well, some sites offer an email subscription. Unfortunately, not all do. Plus, if you subscribe to too many sites in your email, you end up with a lot of email to get through before you find the mail your friends and family send you. You may miss that email about the most important meeting you have to attend in your life because there were too many email updates from basketweavingforlife24hoursaday.com (or something else that momentarily caught your attention – and no, I hope that is not a real site).
Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a simple way to keep track of when all your favorite Internet sites were updated?
What if you could just go to one place and see a list of all the sites you are interested in that have been updated? What if you could see what the latest posts were and if they were interesting without having to visit each one? What if this was done all automatically?
[mc src=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7xYqFRfeKKQ” type=”youtube”]Make Your Web More Fun and Productive With RSS Feeds[/mc]
You wouldn’t need to visit all 1000 sites one by one. It would save you hours and hours. All the updated sites would be listed in one place with a description of the article or the whole article. It just might make the Internet fun again. You could leave your email for more important communicating instead of just receiving basket weaving tips. You might even be able to find more websites that interest you (there are probably thousands of basket weaving sites) on the Internet and still keep track of them.
What you are looking for exists in RSS feeds.
RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. RSS feeds have be around for a while and yet many (mabybe most) people don’t know what they are or what they do. They make it a simple matter to subscribe to a website you want to follow. Sites that offer a feed (as RSS feeds or subscriptions are often called) usually have the orange RSS icon in a prominent place on the page. In Firefox and Internet Explorer you can subscribe to a sites feed from the bookmarks or favorites menu (Internet Explorer has an RSS icon in the command bar that you can use to subscribe to a feed also). With Google Chrome you have to click on an RSS feed icon on the site. There is an extension (by Google) to add an RSS icon in the address bar whenever there is a feed available.
Then clicking on the address bar RSS icon will subscribe you.
Clicking the RSS icon will allow you to subscribe to the feed.
Once you click on the icon, you will be able to choose the feed reader or service you use. You are then subscribed to the feed and the feed reader or service you use will automatically collect the updates. You just need to visit the RSS reader service or open up the reader you use and any updates from any sites you subscribe to will be ready for you to read. If you ever get tired of the feeds you are subscribed to, just unsubscribe and your reader will no longer add that site to the list that it checks for new feeds.
The concept of subscribing to RSS feeds is different than subscribing to an email update or email list.
The feed is not sent to you like an email. Your RSS reader or service collects them for you. It is not like giving your email address out to some site that you can never get to stop sending you spam. You don’t give any information to the site when you subscribe to an RSS feed. When you cancel an RSS subscription, there is no way for the site to keep contacting you. Also, your RSS reader is usually only used for feeds from sites. You don’t have to worry about clogging up your email account with stuff that is nice to know but not as important as that email from your mom about her latest basket weaving class.
You can also do a few other fun things with RSS feeds.
You can add RSS feeds to your Yahoo, Windows Live, or iGoogle home page. Adding too many to these home pages would probably clutter them up too much as they are not designed for it, but one or two important or favorite feeds can be very convenient on a home page.
Podcasts (the Internet name for online audio posts or talk shows) are often distributed via RSS. If you don’t want to use iTunes you can often directly subscribe to the RSS feed for a podcast so you know when the next podcast is ready. You can even subscribe to a YouTube channel RSS feed (mine is at http://www.youtube.com/user/shokthx ). Never miss an update of your favorite YouTube channel again.
RSS feeds can really help you get control of the Web.
They can save you time. They can help you sort out the interesting from the not-so-interesting from the really cool. They make it easy to sort through all the information on the Internet without information overload. RSS feeds help you keep connected to the sites that interest you.
In the next post, we will look at how to actually subscribe to an RSS feed and some of the options you have for readers and services.
Of course, I’d invite you to subscribe to this site either by RSS or by email (just enter your first name and email in the newsletter box on the upper right of the page) so you can keep track of all the cool things were are going to be learning about computers and the Internet here.
Dive, don’t just surf the internet or worse, serf.