Thursday, May 19, 2011

Using RSS feeds to have blog posts published to your mailbox - without 'following' or 'subscribing' directly to the blog

This post isn't about running or even sports.

This is a post I wrote a while back on a private family blog. People seemed to find it useful, so here it is in a public location:

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Problem: You like to read from a bunch of different blogs, but think it’s a pain to keep checking them to see when someone posts something. And you don’t necessarily want to ‘follow’ the blog (which involves you giving up some personal information and / or having to create a profile) / or you just don’t want blog postings cluttering up your eMail.
What you’d really like: Is to have all the postings from all blogs, delivered to a single ‘reader’ – consolidated so you can catch up on the ‘news’ from each blog you want to keep in touch with. One spot to check.
Solution(s): The essence of what you are looking for is called an ‘RSS Feed’ (for Really Simple Syndication – no, I’m not kidding). And it’s just what it sounds like. It’s a standard for sending content from one place to another. There are other variations / standards like Atom – but you don’t have to worry about the nitty gritty to use them.  All you have to remember is the following picture:



How to do it: There are two basic steps:
  1. Decide on a ‘Reader’ tool. This is the tool that aggregates all of your feeds together.
  2. Add all your feeds to the tool.

Step 1 - there are a lot of ‘Reader’ tools out there. Some are free, some you pay for. They come in a variety of types:
  •  Stand-alone applications that you run on your computer
  • Apps that can run on your iPad / iPhone / Black Berry (visit the app store for each)
  • Plug-ins for your browser (www.feedly.com for Firefox is a good one)
  • Web based readers like Google Reader (www.google.com/reader)
  • RSS Reader Applets for portal pages like iGoogle and myYahoo
  • Readers that are built-in to apps you already use – like LiveMail, Thunderbird (my personal choice these days on Windows) and AppleMail)
The best thing is to play around with a few different readers. You can use many different ones on many different computers all at the same time. I routinely use LiveMail’s built in reader, a Google Reader applet on my iGoogle page, AppleMail on my iPad and RSS Feeder on my iPad. It just depends on where I’m at and what I’m doing – they are not mutually exclusive.  You can also play around with different ones out there until you find one that works best for you.


Step 2 – Subscribe your Feed tool to the blogs and news you want to follow. Note that ‘subscribing’ to a feed is different than ‘following’ a feed. Unlike following, subscribing is a fairly anonymous process. You don’t have to follow the blog, or even have a login on the blog hosting site. To subscribe, all you need is the ‘feed’ URL. To find this, look for the ‘Internet-ional’ icon for feeds:




If a blog or news site offers a ‘feed’ then it will be on or near the above icon. What you are looking for is a URL that you can then enter into your ‘feed’ tool that you’ve chosen to subscribe to the feed. For example, on my blog (http://mo-kenyan.blogspot.com) – you would see the following on the left hand side:

 
Generally you can subscribe to just the blog – or to the blog, plus all comments made to postings. It’s up to you. Let’s say you just want to subscribe to the ‘Posts’ – clicking on the ‘Posts’ feed icon, you would get:


Many sites offer the ability to automatically tell the ‘tool’ to subscribe to this feed. For example, if you are using ‘Google Reader’, then you’d click the “Add to Google” and it would automatically subscribe that reader to the postings made to my blog.

If you don’t see your tool listed (for example: LiveMail) – then you’ll need to get the URL and enter it manually into the tool. An easy way to get the URL is to hover the cursor over ‘Atom’. In your browsers status bar at the bottom, you’ll see the URL. Or, even easier – you cal click on the ‘Atom’ and it will take you to the ‘feed’ URL. In this case: http://mo-kenyan.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default

You then just copy and paste this URL into your ‘feed’ tool that you are using. For example, if you’re using Windows LiveMail, then you would go to the Feeds window in Windows Live Mail and click the Feed button in the upper left corner. You’d get a pop-up that would look like this:



Once you do that, you’ll start getting your ‘feeds’ at regular intervals from all the blogs you’ve subscribed to. Each reader generally has a way to configure how often it ‘checks’ all your feeds for updates. Usually the default is daily, but you can change that.


Finally – one final note. Many tools are integrated into each other depending on the relationship of the tool providers. For example, subscribing to feeds in Google Reader will make them available automatically in other readers like the iGoogle applet. Similarly, subscribing in LiveMail will automatically add them to your feed list in Internet Explorer. I just mention this because it can be a little maddening sometimes to see feeds showing up in different readers and you think, “How did it know?” 

So that’s it. I didn’t try to make this an exhaustive discussion on feeds, or even a comprehensive tutorial. There are a lot of those out there. I just thought everyone might find this useful as a way to get started.
For further reading, search for “RSS Tutorial” and you’ll get a big list of additional reading to whatever depth your heart desires.

Enjoy!

No comments: