Friday, October 23, 2009

Be in the know and the now w/RSS and podcasts.

In a failed attempt to become a info maven, I started watching the local evening news.  After a few nights of listening to the doom and gloom of the Chicago daily happenings, I was no closer to knowing what was going on in the world and a few steps closer to the proverbial ledge.  The network evening shows weren’t much better.  They took so long to get to “the meat” of what was going on, I was asleep halfway through.  Newspapers are pretty much outdated the minute the hit your driveway or the newsstand, and I don’t have enough time in the morning to eat breakfast, let alone sit and weed through the paper. 

Along came RSS... years ago, actually, and I ignored it.  I kind of got it but didn’t really get it.  Shortly after learning of RSS, I had my son and stayed home with him for a full year.   Then I really had no clue what was happening in the world!  When I reentered the workforce, I had to re-immerse myself in the tech industry in general and Apple products and happenings specifically.  If there is one company that has everyone buzzing, it’s Apple.  Between rumor sites (Apple does not publicly share product roadmaps, fueling the cult following of Mac enthusiasts), financial analysts predictions and commentary, Apple’s own Hot News and other industry sites, I was completely overwhelmed.  Often times I found out about news from someone else.  In a futile effort to be in the know and the now, I bookmarked top sites in my browser of choice (Firefox) and tried to make a habit of visiting them all every morning.  I quickly found I had neither the time nor commitment to make it a habit, and I constantly felt like I was drowning.

Finally, one morning I sent an IM to my technology muse and friend, Danny, “RSS - what’s up?” “Yup, call me.”  The conversation went like this,  “From what I understand it’s a way to feed snipits of articles from the sites I subscribe to into one place so I can scan them quickly and see if I want to read more.” “Exactly.  All you need is a free reader application.”  Within five minutes I was up and running, subscribing to AppleInsider, InfoWorld News, Gizmodo, and CNN, for example, and you can be too:

  1. Download a free RSS Feed Reader application, or use a web-based application like Google Reader (here’s a list of some top online readers).  Some application options include News Gator and their Mac/iPhone version NetNewsWire.
  2. Find the sites of interest to you.  The sites can be webpages, blogs like this one (shameless plug, I know), or anything that has a web address and RSS or atom feed available. Once on the site, click on the RSS/atom button to be taken to the scaled down RSS version of the site.  You can then copy the link (Ctrl+C on a PC or Command+C on a Mac) and paste it into the “subscribe” option of your RSS reader. Or, depending on your reader, you can enter the main site ( and the reader will find the RSS feed for you.  Give it a title you will recognize.  Hit Subscribe and you’re done!  Keep adding sites until you have covered the ones you’re interested in.  You can always unsubscribe to feeds and add other feeds later. 
  3. If you use a reader application instead of a web-based reader, it’s a good practice to set the RSS reader to open on your system when you log in.  On a Mac, you can do this through System Preferences (from the dock or the Apple menu), click Accounts, select your user account and click the Login Items tab.  Select from the list of applications, or add one by clicking the + button.  Find the Application (use the spotlight search function in Finder window) and click add.  You can then check the box next to the application to open it at login, but hide it in your dock if you’d like.  Quit System Preferences, no Save necessary - the change is immediate.  Now when you login to your system, your RSS reader will launch and you can start reading right away.  On a PC this is called Startup Programs
  4. Make it a habit to keep the reader application, or web-based reader open and scan it throughout the day.  Once you’ve read articles or decided you aren’t interested in reading them, you can mark them as read.  Based on the reader you’re using it may indicate there are new articles available by listing a number next to the site name... like your email box lets you know there are new messages to read.
That’s it!  You are now getting feeds from all the sites you’ve subscribed to and you are the one having conversations about the happenings in the world.  How’s that for enrichment and empowerment through technology?  And it’s free!

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention podcasts. This is another way to be “fed” information you subscribe to and get constant updates that you can review at your convenience.  The difference is podcasts are audio files, or “enhanced podcasts” are audio files with photos, videos, and/or documents and links that accompany the audio.  Think of this as electronic versions of news/shows you can download to your computer and/or portable device like an iPod, other MP3 players, or smartphone (Blackberry, iPhone, etc).  When you subscribe in iTunes, you’ll get updates any time your system is connected to the internet and a new episode is available.  You can manage the number of episodes you get and how often.  You can also set your preferences in iTunes for how your iPod updates and manages podcast episodes.  I’ll go into this more in the future, but if you’re interested now go to the iTunes Music Store and click on Podcasts.  Search for something of interest to you - ESPN, a Food Network show, a health and fitness magazine, etc... chances are there is a podcast available. Click on “get episode” to download just that episode, or subscribe and iTunes will get the most recent episodes and will update when new ones are available.  My husband got an iPod touch for his birthday this year (from his parents, yes, at 31 years old - thanks mom and dad!).  He is not the audiophile I am, but he loves sports.  By love I mean he always has ESPN or a game of some sort on, listens to AM sports radio, subscribes to Sports Illustrated and ESPN the magazine... you get the point.  He has found several sports-related podcasts that he downloads to his iPod and listens to during his workouts.  We also have an inexpensive car iPod adapter (or many new models have it built-in) and he listens to podcasts while driving.  So, put that commute to good use by listening to content you’re interested in, instead of scrolling through drolly morning shows.

RSS readers are free.  Podcasts are free.  They both serve up the news and other content you want in an easy to digest format.  Subscribe today and be in the know and in the now - now!

No comments:

Post a Comment