The Secret to Keeping Up

It is a truism to say the computer technology—a misnomer that should be computing technology—changes quickly.  People often ask us, ‘how do you keep up?’  It’s true, in computing technology there are zillions of changes each year, thousands each day, but there is a way to stay on top of things.  It is three little letters: RSS.

There is some debate about what RSS stands for, but let’s go with “really simple syndication.”  It is a scheme that permits web pages—using ‘web pages’ in the broadest sense, but usually meaning ‘blogs’—to publish a notice when they have new contents.  They broadcast the new content, called an “RSS feed” to their subscribers, who in turn can read a headline and a snippit of the new content—in the case of a blog called a “post”—or click a link that will allow them to read the entire post.

How do you become a subscriber?  By clicking an RSS subscription link and adding the “feed” subscription address to an RSS reader.

What is an RSS reader?  A program that aggregates all the RSS feeds to which you are subscribed, and presents them categorically so that you can consume them, mark them as read, mark favorites, send them to others, and generally manage the enormous flow of information from a lot of blogs.  To make this post simple, and if you are not already a user of an RSS reader, we highly recommend Google Reader as the one you ought to use.  After you gain some experience with it, you may wish to try other readers, but after trying quite a few ourselves we have found nothing superior.  You will need a Google account to use it, but who doesn’t have a Google account?

OK, I can hear you saying, I’ve got a Google account and I am signed in to the Reader.  Now what?

Before you start subscribing to feeds, let’s go over the basics of using Google Reader.  It’s really simple.  Here is a link to the Getting Started guide.

Don’t bore me with guides, just tell me what to do.

OK.  When you find a blog you want to subscribe to, let’s say this one, for example, look for a subscription link.  The universal RSS subscription link looks like this:

RSS Icon

or some variation thereon.  If you are on the home page of this blog, you will see it at the top of the right-hand sidebar.  Click it.  Now, depending on what browser you are using something will happen.

Internet Explorer 9

If you are using IE9—actually, if you are using IE9 I wish you would stop and start using Firefox or Chrome—you will get a rather antiseptic looking page describing feeds in general with a link that says “Subscribe to this blog.”

IE9 Link

Don’t click this link.  IE wants to make you use it’s own built-in feed reader, which is not nearly as elegant as the Google Reader.  Rather, right-click this link and choose “Copy shortcut.”  Now, open up Google Reader (just keep it running in a separate tab to save yourself time).  Click the Subscribe button (upper left of the screen) and paste the feed address (that ‘shortcut’ you copied) into the feed URL box.

Google Reader Subscribe Button

You will be subscribed, and in a moment the feed will show up in your subscription list.  In time you will create folders to keep your subscriptions organized.  Once you do, click the drop-down next to the newly subscribed blog and move it to the appropriate folder.

Google Reader Folder List

Firefox 8

Firefox has a helpful RSS button in it’s Navigation toolbar.  If it is not in your toolbar, right-click the toolbar, click Customize… and drag it to the tool bar.  I have placed mine right after the address bar.

If you land on a page that has an RSS feed, they greyed-out RSS button will light up (i.e., change from a translucent to an opaque appearance).  If you have one of the earlier versions of Firefox that ditched the RSS button, you can get it back by installing a simple add-on.

Firefox RSS button

Click it.  If you have never done this before, you will get a little browser dialog like the one in IE.

Firefox Subscribe

Only there is a difference with this dialog: it allows you to “Subscribe to this feed using.”  Click the drop-down and choose Google, then click Subscribe Now.  (Being first sure to check the box to “Always use Google”—that way you will never have to go through this selection process again).  You will get a page with two choices:

Firefox Google Reader Choice

Click “Add to Google Reader” and then the procedure is the same as with IE.  File the feed in the appropriate Reader folder.

Chrome 16

To get the RSS button in Chrome, install a simple Chrome extension.  After installing the extension, when you go to a page that offers an RSS feed the button will light up in your address bar.  Click the button and click the subscribe to feed option:

Chrome Subscribe Button

Note that many blogs allow subscription to comments too, but we won’t worry about that now.  In the resulting screen, choose “Subscribe to this feed using” and choose Google Reader.  Once again, as with Firefox, click the “Always use this reader to subscribe to feeds” selection box.  That way you can avoid extra steps.

Chrome Reader Choice

That’s it.  Now sit back and enjoy the reading.  After you have reviewed articles in Google Reader, mark them as read, and only new posts will be visible.  It’s the fastest and easiest way to keep up there is.