Blogging and RSS Feeds

Ok, short course in blogging and RSS for those of you who aren’t yet familiar with them.

Blog is short for web log, and is basically an online journal or series of articles that can be added to by the writer simply and easily via their web browser. The software came about to allow people who
didn’t understand html to create web pages without having to build them and upload them the way a web designer does. This allowed an explosion of new content to appear on the web – some of it, particularly early on, was purely personal, some of it business related, some of it journalistic (some newspaper magnates seem to think it will be the future of newspapers).

Various blogging software exists and many sites have been set up to allow public blogging for those who don’t have their own site to add a blog to. One of the first and biggest was at http://www.blogger.com/ but there are many others. Blogs are everywhere, some good some bad – look at the following for examples – picked purely at random.

http://www.island-life.me.uk/
http://arb0rv1tae.typepad.com/bookworm/
http://london-underground.blogspot.com/
http://www.ethomsen.com/reading/

Google even have a dedicated blog search interface –
http://blogsearch.google.com/
The quilters amongst you will find plenty of blogs, as will history fans, and of course books have loads too.

When researching who links to the Dunnett site or who mentions Dorothy I’ve come across many blogs discussing books. Just try putting “dorothy dunnett blogs” into regular Google. Then search
for dunnett within the pages – there’s some interesting ones and some that just mention her in passing.

RSS Feeds

RSS Feeds are a different subject but one which dovetails into blogs in a very useful way. RSS (which may or may not stand for Really Simple Syndication) is a way of keeping you up to date with changes to your favourite websites without having to check them manually. Because this is especially useful for reading news they are sometimes confusingly called newsfeeds, which gets them mixed up with Usenet News.

You can use a dedicated RSS reader or you can use some web browsers which have built in facilities or extensions. I currently use Feedreader (http://www.feedreader.com) but have recently found a nice extension to the excellent Firefox web browser which seems good so far and perhaps quicker than Feedreader. wizz_rss_news_reader (this link will install the extension if you use Firefox).

Anyone who uses the Opera browser will have a built in reader as well. There are also sites which will aggregate feeds into a single page for you. Depends whether you want the convenience of working within a browser or want a standalone program.

Sites which have available feeds usually have either a little red/orange RSS (or sometimes XML) button RSS or a link to copy. Have a look at the BBC news site for instance (start at http://news.bbc.co.uk/) and you’ll see a button about half way down on the left. Depending on the reader you’re using you can either click the button or right click and copy the address into a new feed on your reader. (On the BBC site you’ll be taken to a page explaining it all) From then on whenever you start your reader it will automatically check to see whether there are any new articles on that page.

There are similar buttons on other pages in the BBC news site. This lets you choose what subjects you’re interested in. You could take a feed from, say, the BBC sports pages, science pages, and Scottish pages, and not bother with others like the main headlines, politics or Welsh pages.
If you’re a news junkie you could do something similar with sites like:

There are lots of professional non-news sites as well. Just search and ye shall find!

There’s usually a headline or a summary that is shown in your reader so you’re not wasting bandwidth downloading the whole article unless you choose to view it – usually by clicking on the headline.

Now the useful thing here is that many blog sites also offer RSS feeds so whenever the blogger writes a new entry or article you get a note of it in your reader. I keep a watch on various web design and search engine optimisation related blogs for instance. And I have my own at Spiderwriting SEO.

So if you subscribe to the Dunnett blog RSS feed you just need to start your feed reader and if I’ve posted a new article then you’ll see it automatically without me needing to send an email to you.

One thing to beware of. Some feeds, including the link at the bottom of main page of this blog, are trying to use a new convention which places the word feed: in front of the URL for the RSS feed. The idea is that it should work like the mailto: does for email links and it should start your reader program and set up a new feed automatically. However only some reader programs support this so far and if you copy the link into them with this format then they don’t always accept it as a valid feed link. If you find that happening just edit the link to take off the feed: from the beginning

Simple really (just a bit long winded as usual 😉 )