Staying Up to Date - RSS Feeds and Friends News

Keeping track of new is difficult because there are so may sources and mediums. TV, radio, papers, local, world, friends news & pictures (a big deal when your friends have kids), blogs, picture sets, software updates, podcasts, speeches, shared documents, lists.  In the past 6 months I've been introduced to a few simple technologies that when combined make it very easy to keep track of information coming from lots of sources. The end result is something very cool. The best example I can think of is that I can see pictures of my niece before my brother even tells me there available online!

The Technologies:

  • RSS Feeds  - Websites publish lists of updates—called "feeds"—that indicate when new content has been posted. When you subscribe to a feed, Google Reader starts monitoring that feed for updates.  RSS and Atom are the two most popular feed formats. - google reader help

  • Google Reader   - is a Web-based aggregator, capable of reading Atom and RSS feeds. It also allows you to publish a single feed made up of 2 or more feeds. This republishing an aggregate feed is very cool.

  • iTunes Podcast feed subscriptions - iTunes provides the ability to subscribe to a feed that is not available in the iTunes store. [From iTunes Advanced-> Subscribe to Podcast -> copy your podcast feed URL]

  • Google Personalized Home Page   -  A customizable web page where you can add modules to display just about anything you want. Weather, gmail, calendar, task lists, pictures, news & a Google Reader module and many more. When you go to the page it is updated with the latest info from each of those sources.

  • Google Reader Homepage Module   - A module for the personalized home page that allows for a scrollable list of posts in a feed and the ability to read the content of the post without leaving the page.

  • - a social bookmarking website that allows you to bookmark any link on the web and tag/label each one. RSS feeds are available for your entire list or any specific tag.

The Monitor List:
Keeping up with friends websites and pictures can be hard. Checking people's websites for updates is impractical, especially if they update infrequently. So I basically end up not doing it and losing track of people. That's why this is my favorite use of GR so far. Here's how it works:

  1. Subscribe to the feeds posted by people I like to keep track of. [OK that sounds creepy, but its not meant to be.] I'm talking about blogs of friends, authors who's book I found interesting, leads on projects like Ubuntu, or flickr photo sets using Mike's photo set feed creator or even the blog of some software or service I recently started using.
  2. Label/tag/folder all of these feeds something like "monitor in a non creepy way".
  3. Add the GR home page module to my personalized home page and chose my "monitor in a non creepy way" list.

Now when any of those feeds are updated it appears on my home page. There is no remembering to visit people's websites and I still stay up to date. If my brother posts pictures, a friend updates his blog, or a software I'm using announces a new release it shows up on my homepage! You name it if its on the web and I'm interested I can get it sent right to my homepage. Best of all its a very filtered news feed of only that stuff I care about.

Global Podcast Management:
Subscribing to podcasts typically requires an application, (like iTunes) that sits on a specific machine. If you want to change or update the items you're subscribed to you need to be at that computer. If you want to listen to a recent podcast and you haven't updated your mp3 player on that computer your SOL. Here's how you can do podcast management & listening without a base computer.

  1. Using Google Reader Subscribe to some podcast feeds and (in google reader) label them podcast.
  2. From Google Reader share the "podcast" feed.
  3. In iTunes or your podcast reader of choice, subscribe to your shared "podcast" feed. [From iTunes Advanced-> Subscribe to Podcast -> copy your podcast feed URL]

Thanks to my brother for coming up with this one! The benefits are these things three:

  1. No need to go to your "base" computer to subscribe and unsubscribe to podcasts. Its all managed via the GR on the web.
  2. You can listen to podcasts on google reader via its build in mp3 player, so you can get the most up to date podcasts without having to refresh your mp3 player or loading iTunes.
  3. You can add individual podcast episodes to the feed (because you can label either a feed or a single episode in GR). For example, I like to listen to the Friday podcast of NPR's On Point, but the feed for On Point has en episode every day of the week. Using individual post labels I can add this one episode a week to my "podcast" feed without getting all the others from that week.

The one down side is that iTunes seems to group all the podcasts under the name of the feed instead of their feed title. This appears to be a limitation of iTunes as the actual name of each posts feed is in the google reader feed.

Other Useful Tricks:

  • Document Changes: Most online document editors have an RSS feed for changes. When co-authoring subscribing to the feed and putting it on your homepage lets you know when its updated.

  • Personal News Channels: As with the monitor list its easy to create feeds for other topics. For example news about specific industries, NGOs, local events, or company news.

  • Sharing Fun Stuff: Using bookmark movies or books you like and share the RSS feed with friends. They can add the feed to their monitor list and get an update whenever you add something to the list.