Monday, November 07, 2005

My recommended webtool of the day: Bloglines

This is my second attempt at this post. The first attempt...well, I got distracted and closed the browser window (that's my story and I'm sticking to it!). So...this may be a little different than what I had planned because, well, what I planned left my brain a while ago. (Guess a Pensieve would be too much to ask for?)

What does Bloglines mean to you?

Let's start off with what it does. Bloglines lets you give it the URL (the web address) of an RSS feed and it then goes out and periodically downloads that information for you (checking for new items), so you can come back to it later. Simply go to the Bloglines website, set up an account (needs your name, and email address) and then start adding the RSS feeds you want.

Wait a minute, you said RSS. What does that mean to me?

RSS = Really Simple Syndication

Simply put RSS is about sharing. RSS is a way to share content from one website to another, in a standard way. RSS is a web-standard that was created to share data so web-programmers (like me) would not have to do crazy things like write programs that memorized the layout of a website and pulled out certain parts (aka Screen Scraping).

Ok, so really it was created to share data, and RSS makes sharing data easier (I did not say easy!). So now, with RSS, I could display information from CNN, Foxnews, someone else's blog, or any website that offers RSS (like LCLS). Most importantly I can do this because RSS returns information in a specific format, so I could write one program to interpret data from many different websites.

The easiest way to think of RSS is to think about a news article. You have a title, the byline, author, intro text, and the full-text of the article. That is how RSS stores information. An RSS reader (like Bloglines) interprets that information and formats it so that it is easily readible by you.

Another simple analogy would be to compare RSS to e-mail. With RSS content on the web comes TO YOU (just like all that unwanted e-mail), instead of you having to GO FIND IT.

Tools like Bloglines help you get the benefit of RSS. Bloglines reads the RSS feeds you store and brings you the information in a nicely formatted webpage. No work, other than adding the feed's URL, is required on your part.

By using a tool like Bloglines, you dont have to visit 50 websites a day to catch up. If they offer RSS, you can store all the RSS feeds in one place and go to one (1) website and see all of what your 50 favorite websites have put online recently. (Who can say "time saver" three times fast?)

Bloglines really stuck out to me, because it also has a mode that lets you create a special URL that you can send your friends and they can see what RSS feeds you're reading, and view them through the Bloglines website.

If you visit:, you can view all the RSS feeds I read.

You can control, of course, what ones you make available and what ones you don't.

Bloglines is simple to use, simply visit the main website, create a new account, and start adding RSS feeds. Believe me when I say, a lot, A LOT of places offer RSS. All the major news outlets are doing it, blogs the world over have RSS, and libraries are jumping into the game as well.

There are other tools you can use to download RSS feeds to your desktop as well.

One I use on my desktop is:
-SharpReader. Sharp reader is a desktop application that sits in the system tray and downloads RSS content for you and alerts you when new things are downloaded.
Benefit: Content comes to you (after you start the program, it is similar to outlook/outlook express in that it stays open downloading for you and alerting you when new things are posted)
Downside: Only available to you on the computer you install it on.

Since I started using Bloglines, I have not been using SharpReader as much. But several staff here at LCLS now use SharpReader to subscribe to RSS feeds for the LCLS website, as well as any other sites they like to keep up with.

Creating an RSS feed is a little more work than viewing them, but thanks to sites like Bloglines and desktop tools like SharpReader, viewing RSS is even easier than it was when RSS started.

Where can you find RSS feeds? Most websites list them fairly obviously on their websites, look for the XML graphic, or a link that says RSS, ATOM, or Web feed.

RSS is not some big sophisticated techno-geeky thing, but the aura that surrounds it because it was embraced by geeks kinda shyed some away. With so many tools available, especially ones as simple as Bloglines, RSS can be integrated into your daily computer habits and it will change the way you interact with the web.


At 11/08/2005 8:07 AM, Anonymous jena said...

One of the great things about Bloglines is that it will "auto-discover" RSS feeds. If you don't know if a website has one or not, you can just type in the site's base address, and Bloglines will try to find a feed associated with it. It's not completely infallible, as sometimes it can't locate a feed that should be there, but most of the time, it works.

There is also a "bookmarklet" that you can drag to your bookmarks folder; then, when you find a site you want to keep track of, you just click on the bookmarlet and it will automatically try to find any associated feeds and let you subscribe to them, without having to go back to the Bloglines page.


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