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Blogs, vlogs and podcasts: Syndicated content made easy through RSS

by Bob Morse

(This article appeared in the Eureka Times-Standard, November 15, 2005)

You’ve probably heard the buzz on the Internet about blogs, short for web logs or online journals with links and personal opinions. And recently in this column Rene Agredano mentioned podcasts that are sound files, sometimes aural blogs, but also complete, professionally produced radio shows you can download and play on your computer or portable music player. You might not yet have heard of vlogs that are video versions of blogs, also know as vidcasts or video podcasts. But if you haven’t started to take advantage of some of the great tools for accessing this content, then this article is for you.

Blogs started out as personal journals, mostly about technical issues. But now you can find blogs on just about any topic you can imagine. Many businesses offer blogs on their web sites and most larger news organizations provide blogs, podcasts and sometimes vlogs that are being updated constantly. With millions of web sites offering one or more of these resources (over 20 million according to Technorati which tracks these things) it could be very difficult to find what you want and be alerted on new content.

RSS to the Rescue
Enter RSS or Real Simple Syndication, a process that allows for automatic distribution and tracking of regularly updated content on the web. RSS is a subset of XML (Extensible Markup Language), which is a way of describing data so that it can be easily shared between systems. In practical terms, RSS provides a means for someone to subscribe to a resource and be alerted automatically when the content at that resource is updated.

When you find a web site that interests you and that site is RSS enabled (something I will describe below), you can be alerted automatically when the content is updated. As the web becomes ever more dynamic with new content being generated constantly, keeping up using RSS is far more effective than having a long list of bookmarks in your browser. RSS is fast becoming the way to disseminate and receive content over the Internet. Many sites now simply enable every page with RSS whether they are considered blogs or not.

Finding Your Favorite Feeds
Finding RSS enabled web sites is fairly easy with several resources providing blog, podcast or vlog searches. Google, of course, offers a blog search (http://blogsearch.google.com/). Technorati (http://technorati.com), mentioned above, has both a search capacity and a categorized directory. If you’re interested specifically in podcasts, Apple’s free ITunes for both Windows and Macintosh now indexes many podcasts. Additionally, Podcast Alley (http://www.podcastalley.com/) is a good starting place for finding podcasts. The Vlog Directory (http://www.vlogdir.com/) focuses on finding video based blogs.

You can also find RSS enabled web sites just through usual surfing. Typically, RSS feeds are identified by little orange ‘XML’ or ‘RSS’ icons. Clicking on those buttons will usually take you to a page full of confusing code. Ignore the page itself and just copy the URL or web address in your browser’s location window. That’s the link for subscribing to that RSS feed.

Reading RSS Feeds
Once you have begun to see the value of RSS and subscribing to regularly updated content, you will need an RSS reader or aggregator. Several web sites such as Bloglines (http://bloglines.com) allow you to create personalized collections of RSS feeds and share them with others. If you have a MyYahoo account (http://my.yahoo.com) you can add feeds to your page with the single click of a mouse. RSS aggregators on the web have the advantage of being able to access them from anywhere allowing you to keep up with your subscriptions from any computer.

Another option for reading RSS are applications you install on your computer dedicated to gathering, categorizing and updating your favorite feeds. NetNewsWire (http://ranchero.com/netnewswire), for example, has versions for Windows and Macintosh. I like RSS news readers because of the ease of use and customization. I let mine run in the background as it checks for new content on all my feeds every 15 minutes. NetNewsWire even lets you synchronize your feeds between your local computer and your Bloglines account so you will never be out of step with the latest information wherever you travel.

Whatever option you choose, as the amount of available information continues to explode, finding, managing and filtering data becomes ever more pressing for individuals and organizations wishing to stay current. RSS news readers and aggregators provide excellent tools for this. And if you are a web site owner, blogs and other uses of RSS should become part of your arsenal in helping to get your message out. Content is still King on the web. But regularly updated content is Emperor. And RSS is quickly becoming the messenger of the realm.

If you’re interested in learning more about current technologies and the rapid changes they are making to our lives, be sure to check out the Redwood Technology Consortium. Join our monthly meetings where a whole range of technology related issues are discussed. The monthly meetings are free and open to everyone. To learn more, visit the RTC web site (http://redwoodtech.org).

Bob Morse is co-owner with his wife Marianne of Morse Media, a multimedia production company based in Old Town Eureka, helping people tell their stories in the digital age (http://morsemedia.net). Bob is also on the board of the Redwood Technology Consortium.