Chris Barton: RSS could be solution for blog overload

By Chris Barton

COMMENT

It was a pub conversation amid a noisy crowd watching a Super 12 game.

"Have you heard that X has a . . ?"

(Shouting) "A what?"

"A blog."

"No, what's it about?"

"Don Brash's diary."

"What's the address?"

"You'll never remember it - I have ... , blogspot dot com."

"What?"

" ... , in my ...

"What?'

"Never mind ... "

As predicted, the next day we couldn't remember the address. Was it ihavesomethingonmymind.blogspot.com? Nope.

That prompted a frantic and fruitless set of searches via Google and various blog search sites.

It was looking hopeless. But then I went back to the first principle - that you can find anything on the web if you get the logic right.

The logic in this case was a Google search with the words "Waitangi, blogspot" (without the quote marks).

And there it was, on the 6th page of 112 results - ihavethingsinmyhead.blogspot.com.

You should go there at once because the satire is good - and something we really need at the moment.

But the new blog also gave me a new headache - too many blogs to read and keep up with. Blog overload. I have known for some time the answer to this problem is RSS, but I've resisted because I hate geeky abbreviations.

There is argument as to what RSS stands for - rich site summary, really simple syndication, RDF site summary. Take your pick because it doesn't matter.

Essentially RSS is a format - a bit of hidden code on a web page that provides an easy way to amass headlines from a large number of sources such as news sites and web logs.

If the information is in RSS format - and an awful lot of blogs and news sites are - then an RSS-aware program can check sites for updates and amalgamate all the headlines of the blogs and news sites you read in the one place.

There are two types of news readers or aggregators - the web-based kind such as Feedster or Bloglines and those that involve downloading a small program such as FeedDemon or Radio Userland.

For a list of what's available go here.

Once you've settled on a news aggregator, you simply fire it up, select sites from an array of thousands of choices such as BBC Online and New York Times, or add your own favourite blogs and you're away. Whenever you sign on, a directory pane or list lets you see the most recent updates for each channel or feed you've selected.

You then scan the headlines for each feed and click on those you want to read more of.

A quick way to find what is available in RSS is to use RSS directories such as News Is Free where feeds are listed by category.

Another is Syndic8.com, which lets you look through thousands of RSS feeds that users have submitted or which have been added by volunteers to its collection.

I haven't settled on which type I prefer, but I'm leaning towards the ones you install because they're easier to use and have more nifty features. On the other hand, the web-based ones mean you can log into your feeds from anywhere and catch up with who is saying what.

The only tricky part when adding a new feed or channel is finding the correct RSS web address - but most are fairly visible on sites. Usually it's an icon labelled "XML" or "RSS".

For Public Address for example, the RSS address is publicaddress.net/rss.sm.

Unfortunately ihavethingsinmyhead doesn't appear to have the RSS format - or not in a way that I can easily find.

Blogstreet, which has a great search tool for the "RSS ecosystem" and an RSS generator cryptically informed me "the URL has an invalid RSS file".

So the system is not perfect and conflicting standards in the RSS world threaten to upset the apple cart. But as a way to deal with information overload, aggregators really do make a difference.

And the semi-automated syndication provides a powerful way of spreading the word.

* Tell me which aggregator is best and why.
Email Chris Barton

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